The Wake of the Wind

( 31 )

Overview

Set in the South in the waning years of the Civil War, this is the dramatic story of a remarkable heroine, Lifee, and her husband, Mor. When Emancipation finally comes to Texas, Mor, Lifee, and their family set out in search of hope and a piece of land they can work and call their own. Miraculously, they manage not only to survive, but to succeed - their crops grow, their children thrive, they educate themselves and others. But the South during Reconstruction is not a place that takes kindly to the achievements ...
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Overview

Set in the South in the waning years of the Civil War, this is the dramatic story of a remarkable heroine, Lifee, and her husband, Mor. When Emancipation finally comes to Texas, Mor, Lifee, and their family set out in search of hope and a piece of land they can work and call their own. Miraculously, they manage not only to survive, but to succeed - their crops grow, their children thrive, they educate themselves and others. But the South during Reconstruction is not a place that takes kindly to the achievements of former slaves, and as lynchings and injustice become a plague across the region, time and again they must make the anguished decision to leave their land in search of a safer place.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Cooper's disappointing third novel after Family frustrates readers with a good premise poorly executed. Mordecai and Lifee meet as slaves on a plantation in post-Civil War Texas. Forced to marry by their master before they even know each other, they fall in love just as emancipation is declared, and head east with several other newly freed companions to look for a safe place to live. Cooper conveys the mixture of hope, fear and confusion as hungry and footsore former slaves move across the country. Mor and Lifee find work at a ruined plantation in Georgia and begin a family; and in time, the owner secretly sells her property to them. The tightly knit clan of former slaves prospers, but when lynchings in the area become frequent, they are forced to leave. Eventually they settle on an abandoned farm, where they survive economic depression and other troubles. When tragedy ensues, the next generation must assume responsibility for preserving the family. Though Cooper's research about the troubled historical era provides good details, her characters are mainly two-dimensional stereotypes. The blacks are good, with pure hearts; the whites with one exception are duplicitous. Moreover, the prose is wooden and preachy, lacking grace or nuance. This earnest saga of freed slaves aspiring to new lives in the Reconstruction South is commendable in intent but pedestrian in execution. Sept.
Kirkus Reviews
A lyrical, century-spanning family saga on the lives of several African-American families. Cooper (Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, 1995, etc.) begins with a recitation of the brief, hard existence of two young men, Kola and Suwaibu, best friends who, in the 1760s, are captured by slavers and transported to America. Both father children "in this new world of pain," sending some essence of themselves "rushing, striving, pulsing on toward some future." A century later, Mordecai (a Suwaibu descendant) and Lifee (a Kola descendant) meet on a Southern plantation in the last days of the Civil War. Lifee, newly arrived, is slated to become the masterþs mistress. Beautiful and educated, she is driven by a fierce determination to be free. Mordecai, a skilled farmer and deeply humane, shares her desire for freedom. When the war ends, the two set out to look for a place of their own, making an epic trek across the devastated South before finding land. Cooper's narrative comes into its own with her portrait of the turbulent years following the war, as freed slaves filled the South's roads looking for lost family members and new lives. Her depiction of the ways in which Mordecai and Lifee outwit the violent whites they encounter is vivid, detailed, and stirring. Much of the story concerns the pairþs almost continual battle to keep their home and secure an education for their children in the face of violent white opposition. Even if, as Lifee observes at the end of her life in 1895, the world is "still as hard on Negroes" as it can be, she and Mordecai and their equally resilient children have nonetheless managed to defy the odds, and the unpredictable "winds of life," to create a placefor themselves in the world. A moving story that combines period detail, terse, flavorful language, and a swift plot to create a portrait of a redoubtable family over time.
From the Publisher
"A vivid picture of struggle and survival."
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Rendered with compassion and beautiful simplicity."
The Washington Post Book World

"Heartwarming....Cooper knows the cadences of folktale well."
Chicago Tribune

"[A] provocative and at times painful family portrait....It should be required reading."
Detroit Free Press

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385487047
  • Publisher: Doubleday Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/15/1998
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.99 (w) x 8.57 (h) x 1.33 (d)

Meet the Author

J.  California Cooper is the author of the novels Family and In Search of Satisfaction and five collections of short stories, including Homemade Love, winner of the 1989 American Book Award, and Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime. She is also the author of severnteen plays and has been honored as Black Playwright of the Year (1978), received the James Baldwin Writing Award (1988), and the Literary Lion Award from the American Librarby Association (1988). She lives in Gualala, California.

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Read an Excerpt

The slave cattleman, who, with most other slaves, respected Suwaibu, said, "We done pared him for buryin, Massr. We knows where to put em. Can we'uns put im away now? Dis here heat . . . gonna make his'n body . . ."

The master spat again and said, "Naw, not now. We got to get them fields in fore the rain sets in." The slave answered, "I can do it, this ebenin. We'uns can dig his grave affa supper, in da dark." The master frowned, "Ya'all ain't tired, huh? If I want you to work, you'd be tired."

The slave bent his head, begging. "He was a fren to all o us."

The master turned back to his glass of bourbon. "Well, get it done quick, cause I don't want no tired niggers lazyin round my cattle tomarra. Now, get on away from me and wastin all my time talkin bout a dead nigga."

"Yessuh Massr." The slave backed down the short steps. "Yessuh."

And Suwaibu was buried in a hastily stolen (they made us steal so much), ragged horse blanket with the tears of his fellow brothers and sisters falling down into his grave. They would miss him. He had shared his food with them, his wood for warmth in the freezing winters. They would miss him.

Though by pain of death, reluctantly, Suwaibu had fathered children. He had seen some beaten, a few die, some sold, but living, because he had taught them the secrets of the Longhorn cattle and they became valuable. Those living children carried his blood out all over the Southern lands of America. His blood was rushing on into the unknown future through the veins of his black children, and their children.

And Then, Again

Forty years after the death of Suwaibu, about 1830, Suwaibu's blood still rushingtoward the future, one of his descendants, a great, great, great-grandchild, was born. The child was named Mordecai by another of those religious, yet cruel, masters.

Years later in another place, around 1840, the rushing and descending blood of Kola made an advent in the form of one of his great, great, great-granddaughters. She was born in Louisiana, supposedly a child of the white master and his private concubine-slave, her mother. The baby was named Lifee by a dramatic housemaid, close friend of the mother. "Ah, she has come from such a life; what life will her birth bring to her. We must pray she will not be a slave, nor a fool. That she will find a way to live. Lifee."

Another gift was given to Lifee when she was older, by the close friend of her mother, the old mulatto slave housemaid. It was a small, exquisite enameled box. In it were two daguerreotypes. One of her mother and a stolen one of her true father, an African man. Also in it was the towel used to catch her when she was born with the initial "I" embroidered upon it and a delicate handkerchief in the shape of a heart. It was all she had that she truly treasured. It was all of her heritage.

Lifee had been born to a mulatto mistress and an African man, so she was hastily given away by her mother who knew she was in danger from her master, since he expected his white child. He thought she suffered grief because their child had died, but she suffered because she had to give her child away to one of the women who worked for her, a faithful old Negro woman, Lala. Lala had been freed because she was too old, and less beautiful now, to serve her white lover who wanted a younger woman. He freed her and sat her on the streets with nothing. She had found her sister, also free now, and they lived together, raising the child, in clean squalor.

When Lifee was three years old, the faithful old Lala died and her sister could not afford to keep Lifee. She told Lifee's true mother who then convinced her white master to buy Lifee for his daughter as a gift. It was all the mother could do for her child.

These two people, Mordecai and Lifee, were born hundreds of miles apart physically. Their lives were lived thousands of miles apart mentally because she had learned in a classroom sitting beside her young mistress and he had never held a book in his hands. But they were traveling on the broad, broad map of life and though they seemed to be going on different paths, they were slaves, heading in the same direction leading to one road. In the irony and beauty of life, after one hundred years, the bloods of Kola and Suwaibu were about to meet again through their descendants, Mordecai and Lifee. You never know, exactly, who is carrying your blood. It is now, a lifelong, endless search for relatives. Somebody. Often fruitless for many.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Why does Cooper begin The Wake of the Wind with the prologue about Africa and the descriptions of Suwaibu and Kola's capture by slave traders and their years in slavery? Do they do more than serve as historical background for the story of Lifee and Mor? Are there parallels between the journeys Suwaibu and Kola make and Lifee and Mor's journey across the American South after the Civil War?

2. After Lifee gains her freedom, she tells her former mistress, "Miz Morella, white folks ain't been taking care of us. We have been taking care of white folks. Better ask what you all will do when we are gone and slavery is no more" [p. 51]. How does the novel bring to light the far-reaching repercussions of the dismantling of the slave system? How does the white population limit the freedom of African Americans even after the law has emancipated them? Which segment of white society is most responsible for the rise of racial violence after the war and why? Do Cooper's explanations of the sources of racism remain valid today?

3. What values guide Mor and Lifee as they build a life for themselves and their children? How do they impart these values not only through words but also through their actions? Do you think the portrait Cooper paints is idealized? Are her descriptions of white America (for example, Mor's conversation with his children [pp. 226-228] and Able's discussion of his experiences at college [p. 334]) accurate?

4. What do Cooper's novels share with other books, both fiction and nonfiction, that you have read about the Civil War period? Do her descriptions of the relationships between African Americans and whites before and immediately followingthe war differ from your previous impressions or beliefs? In what ways does Cooper challenge the traditional depiction of the boundaries between slave and master, black and white? Which characters or relationships do you find particularly surprising? Are the white characters as fully developed as the African Americans are?

5. Cooper touches on a wide range of social, economic, and political issues in her writing, including the historical divisions between races and classes; interracial relationships; the significance of complexion in society in general and within the African American community specifically; and the importance of education. What techniques does she use to incorporate these subjects without disrupting the flow of the stories? In what ways can fiction be more effective than nonfiction in revealing the forces that shape our world?

6. In describing Cooper's writing, Alice Walker said, "Her style is deceptively simple and direct and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person's foolishness cannot be heard." How do these traits mirror classic forms of storytelling, from myths and Biblical parables to the folk stories passed down through oral traditions? Why do you think Cooper may have chosen to use these timeless techniques to tell her stories?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 31 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(27)

4 Star

(3)

3 Star

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2 Star

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1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2007

    In American literary jewel. Join souls with these characters!

    When reading Cooper's books I am reminded of being a kid in the 1960's with a favorite Aunt telling stories to wide-eyed kids on a back porch on a warm summer night. You forget about the sound of crickets, cease seeing the fireflies and you are transported to another place and time. In The Wake of the Wind you can 'see' the characters. You can sense the essence of their souls. I and my wife would rush home from work to continue reading this important, imaginative work to each other. I can imagine that the end of slavery was both exciting and frightening confusing to all. What were the new roles? Where was home? Who and where is family? Cooper's work lets the reader see some possibilities and evokes clear images. She pays homage to the multi-generational aspect and effect on family. Cooper is a masterful story-teller. I could see, in my mind's eye, the family making their way along a passage that is somewhere around US Interstate Highway 10 today or what used to be called 'The Old Spanish Trail'. This book is beautiful and stays in my mind years after the first read. It's an American literary jewel. Time to read it again!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2012

    appleleaf

    Loved this book. And I have pasted it on to other. Great work Ms. Cooper

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  • Posted January 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    OUTSTANDING NOVEL

    Once again J.C.Cooper has suceeded in grabing the readers heart with a touching story. One that will make you see the true meaning of what family and love is all about. It truly reflects on the hardships that our ancestors had to encounter while struggling to be free and obtain a place that they can call home.

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  • Posted December 21, 2008

    Wake Of the Wind by: California Cooper

    I read this book I think about six or seven years ago. It was a book that I will never forget. I have since shared it with my friends, my family, and my boss. Everyone loved it. It has caused me to expect the best when I choose a novel...my standard has gone to a new level.Lifee was an example of the strong woman, mother, and friend that we all expire to become. It should be made into a movie, or a mini series for TV-1, or the Hallmark channel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2008

    Review of Wake of the Wind

    This is a wonderful story of two slaves who are forced to marry on the plantation but then fall in love. They build a wonderful life and take you on their journey to freedom following the abolishing of slavery. They acquire land and have children but wisely choose to hide their sucesses to the outside world, fearing they will be tormented, even killed, by the whites who are jealous. They meet and help many people on the way, welcoming others into their close-knit family...a warm, uplifting story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2004

    Giving Thanks

    I just finished this book. I agree with some, that at times the language was a bit 'preachy' and 'sappy'...More than that though, what touched me is the RAW and REAL emotion that Cooper brought to the fore. I finished it in tears...giving thanks.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2004

    consistency

    Everything from J.C.C. is epic in my book. In my late teens this women set the bar for me and what i read. Little have come close. I look forward to reading her newest work. I actually heard her speak @ Morgan State University in Baltimore and no lie; i went home and broke up with my boyfriend. The things she said that day touched me like no other person has. She told the truth about life and it made me realize that i was lying to myself about the relationship i was in ....KUDO's to J.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2004

    Great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This book is epic. Its a book for all ages, race and times, I stronglly disagree with the negative reviews, maybe they are not reading with understanding I urge them to go back and read it again, its about determintaion and strong will, and never giving up. J California Cooper has written a masterpiece.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2003

    Did you read the wrong book?

    I have to strongly disagree with the negative reviewers on this book. This is one of the best books by one of best writers out there. Some of your reviewers need to read the book again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2003

    Extremely Repetitive

    I really really did NOT like this book! Having said that, I must admit it was not the storyline, so much as it was the writing style that turned me off. I loved the basic premise of the story and I think it is a story that should be heard, especially by young Black people today. It is about overcoming obstacles, never letting yourself believe that you can't do better or achieve greatness. It is about spending your time on working for a dream rather than making up excuses as to why it can't be done. It's about not being satisfied with just living. Its about working for a goal and helping others. There are many principles in the book that children should learn and learn early. For that reason, I give the book two stars. And only for that reason. However, the way Cooper writes (at least in this book, I have not read any of her other books) was downright insulting. Because I liked the basic story, I found myself wishing that someone else had told it. First of all, the book could have been half of the size it was. She repeated everything she said over and over and over again as if the reader did not get it the first time. For example, I was so sick of Mema saying, "I needs me a fambly...I'm so glad I gots me a fambly...Yall's my fambly now...". And that's just one example. There are many, many more instances where she repeats herself, so much that I thought I was reading a part of the book over and had to check my page number. Which brings me to another point. Her character portrayal was extremely underdeveloped and onesided. While, I'm sure that Mema wanted a family, I'm sure she had other fears and worries and layers to her personality that Cooper chose to ignore. All you ever really knew about Abby was that she wanted her own house to raise her children in. Even Mor and Lifee, the main characters, were way too perfect. They never did ANYTHING even slightly wrong (or human) throughout the whole book. They ALWAYS said the right things, ALWAYS responded correctly, NEVER made any mistakes. All of the people that they helped were perfect, except in one chapter, and those people were sooooo awful that it was comical (although I think it was intended to be comical). But it proves another point. All of the main characters were either all horribly and awfully bad or all "Mother-Theresa-good". And human beings are not like that. There were no layers to these peoples characters. I can see why other reviewers have said that Cooper sounded a little too preachy in this novel. She could have used her pages better by spending more time developing the other characters less time repeating herself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2002

    OUTSTANDING BOOK

    I READ THIS BOOK FOR ENGLISH CLASS, NOT KNOWING HOW POWERFUL THIS BOOK IS. THIS BOOK MADE ME APPRECIATE LIFE MORE, AND MADE ME SEE THAT WE AS AFRICAN AMERICANS HAVE IT EXTRAORDINARY GOOD IN LIFE, THANKS TO OUR LIFEE AND MOR'S OF THE WORLD. I FELT FOR LIFEE AND MOR, BUT THIS BOOK ALSO MADE ME REALIZE HOW STRONG, AND INTELLIGENT AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE. WE ARE THE FRUIT ON ANY TREE.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2002

    OUTSTANDING!!!

    I do not know where ya'll get your critics from but whomever it is...*nevermind*...This critic just wasnt 'FEELING' the spirit of the characters. *shaking my head at that critic* Awesome BOOK....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2002

    Not My Favorite

    Great book but not Cooper's best work. She lost me in the end with so much sap. But, a great piece of work nonetheless that tells a great story of family and tenacity, both of which are Cooper's major themes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2002

    You've got to be kidding

    I wholeheartedly disagree with the Publishers Weekly. This book is anything but disappointing and after reading all of her books ranks as my favorite. This is a tale of courage, inner-strength and love through adversity at a time that worked so hard to repress and depress a whole cultures spirit. I know this is fiction, but Ms. Cooper often writes stories with lessons and this is yet another fantastic lesson of overcoming adversity and hope.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2002

    A Wonderfull Book !!!!!!!

    This book will grab you and not let you go... I felt as though, I was sitting on the porch and a part of this wonderfully endearing family. I cheered for them, I held my breath for them, I got angry with them.... But mostly I am glad I was a part of their lives if only through the pages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2002

    Wonderful reading!!!!!!

    This was the first book I read by this author and certainly will not be the last!! I felt as if I belonged to their 'family'. I could picture everything that she talked about and felt as if I felt their hardships as well. Thank you for this wonderful book you have created Ms. Cooper.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2001

    An Epoch Adventure Story about survival and family

    This is a wonderful story about two former slaves and how over several years they managed to survive through the worst of times.It is my view that critics,particularly white critics, are unable to fairly and honestly evaluate the works of Cooper in this book. It seems that many of them lack the sensitivity or understanding that would be necessary to be able to capture the feelings that are endured by the characters as they are portrayed in this work of art. To read this book and to capture the feelings that are conveyed in this novel is an unforgetable experience.One simply falls in love with the woman(Liefe)and honors the way she manages to keep her family on course to make a life for themselves in this land.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2001

    THE ABSOLUTE BEST

    I HESITATED TO PURCHASE THE BOOK BECAUSE OF HER PREVIOUS SHORT STORY WRITING STYLE BUT TO MY SUPRISE I LOVED THE BOOK AND WAS ABLE TO GET AT LEAST 10 PEOPLE TO READ THE BOOK IVE READ ALL OF HER BOOKS AND ENJOYED THIS ONE THE BEST MY HATS ALWAYS OFF TO THIS WRITER SHE IS THE BEST I AM A READER OF MANY DIFFERENT AUTHORS BUT NONE COMPARE

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2001

    HISTORY,TOGETHERNESS, FAMILY PRIDE and LOVE

    I was in tears by the end and couldn't put it down. For this African American history buff,' The Wake of the Wind' was a joy. I not only understood these characters' situation intellectually but I could FEEL their pain and CELEBRATE their joy. Too bad, naysayers still are unwilling to face this country's ugly legacy and still must have an equal number of 'good hearted' whites, in a story (true or not) to give credit where credit is due. 'The Wake of the Wind' makes it clear that though most unions between Black women and white men were rapes, their many, many offspring were accepted into the African American family fold. This work also makes it clear, that we have pioneered in defining 'family' in its broadest terms. I love this work of art (and this author in general) and plan to recommend it to friends and family and use it in my work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2000

    A must read

    This is a wonderful book. You will not want to put it down.

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