DEBUT Remembrance is a stop along the Underground Railroad, a magical pleat in time and space. If the enslaved can find their way to it, they disappear from the slave hunters and from white people altogether, and can live in peace and freedom. Mother Abigail created it and holds it together, but her powers are beginning to wane. Boundaries are weakening. Margot makes her way to Remembrance, after unimaginable loss as a slave in New Orleans. When her master succumbs to yellow fever, the widow sells Margo and her sister, Veronique, away from their beloved grandmother. Then Margot loses her sister to illness as they struggle to find their way to the Railroad. Her pain and loss begin to unlock her power. Can she be the person who keeps Remembrance as a hidden pocket of hope? Then, in modern-day Cleveland, a Haitian immigrant is struggling to make a life as a nursing assistant. How does Gaelle tie back to the past? VERDICT This book deserves to be a breakout hit. Woods's magical realist take on the black female experience will have huge appeal to readers of Marlon James and Tara Conklin.—Jennifer Mills, Shorewood-Troy Lib., IL
Four gifted women of color inhabit a multigenerational saga of slavery, rebellion, and magic.
The novel begins in present-day Cleveland, as nursing home worker Gaelle is tending to a mysterious resident, known to staff only as Jane Doe, who has an uncanny ability to generate heat—an ability that Gaelle shares. The mute, ancient woman seems to understand Gaelle's Creole. Gaelle's story will recur, but the past predominates here. In 1791, Haiti's slave rebellion is beginning, as escaped slaves known as maroons are mustering forces. Abigail, whose husband, a rebel, is executed by the whites, is taken by her mistress, Ninette, to New Orleans. Soon after arriving, though, Abigail is rescued from slavery by an ancient crone and a seemingly ageless man named Josiah, who educate her in the dark arts. As yellow fever grips 1850s New Orleans, the Hannigan family repairs to their summer residence, Far Water, with enslaved sisters Veronique and Margot in tow. However, the Hannigan fortunes fail thanks to the feckless husband of Catherine, Ninette's granddaughter, and Veronique and Margot are sold. They embark on the Underground Railroad but only Margot survives the trek to Ohio. There, Margot is ushered into a magical, Shangri-La-like realm called Remembrance, which was founded by Abigail, now a fearsome priestess. She has erected the Edge, an invisible force field around the black community of Remembrance, barring any whites from entry. Josiah is now her chief henchman. However, white bounty hunters are near, and the Edge, due to Abigail's increasing dementia, is fraying. Abigail strives to pass the torch to her adopted daughter, 18-year-old Winter, who exhibits powers of psychokinesis. (Margot too has a gift, for visceral empathy.) But before Winter is ready, disaster looms. Scenes drag on as characters ruminate over various courses of action. Plans are too often interrupted by happenstance, which, though realistic, is not all that interesting. And the novel subverts its own suspense by revealing crucial facts way too early.
Despite a few rookie missteps, the novel's originality makes it worth reading.
"Stunning. ... Family is at the core of Remembrance, the breathtaking debut novel by Rita Woods." The Boston Globe
"An ambitious, absorbing novel. ... Woods creates memorable characters in all four settings, each with a distinct purpose that helps make the impossible relatable. Remembrance is a well-researched, epic historical fantasy." NPR
"Woods’ writing is assured, the historical settings vivid, and her characters fully realized. Hand this to fans of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Octavia Butler's Kindred, who will appreciate this complex, genre-blending debut." Booklist
"Fine attention to sensory details and brutal honesty concerning the horrors of slavery and racial relations over more than two centuries of American history make this a standout." Publishers Weekly
"The novel's originality makes it worth reading." Kirkus Reviews