Summary and book reviews of Cane River by Lalita Tademy

Cane River

By Lalita Tademy

Cane River
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2001,
    418 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2002,
    560 pages.

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Book Summary

A unique accomplishment, this is history never before told, an epic novel of four generations of African-American women, a work based on one family's actual meticulously researched past--and a book with enormous implications for us all.

Lalita Tademy had always been intensely interested in her family's stories, especially ones about her great-grandmother Emily, a formidable figure who died with her life's savings hidden in her mattress. Probing deeper for her family's roots, Tademy soon found herself swept up in an obsessive two-year odyssey--and leaving her corporate career for the little Louisiana farming community of...

Cane River

It was here, on a medium-sized Creole plantation owned by a family named Derbanne, that author Lalita Tademy found her family's roots--and the stories of four astonishing women who battled vast injustices to create a legacy of hope and achievement. They were women whose lives began in slavery, who weathered the Civil War, and who grappled with the contradictions of emancipation through the turbulent early years of the twentieth century. Through it all, they fought to unite their family and forge success on their own terms. Here amid small farmhouses and a tightly knit community of French-speaking slaves, free people of color, and whites, Tademy's great-great-great-great grandmother Elisabeth would bear both a proud heritage and the yoke of slavery. Her youngest daughter, Suzette, would be the first to discover the promise--and heartbreak--of freedom. Suzette's strong-willed daughter Philomene would use determination born of tragedy to reunite her family and gain unheard-of economic independence. And Emily, Philomene's spirited daughter, would fight to secure her children's just due and preserve their future against dangerous odds.

In a novel that combines painstaking historical reconstruction with unforgettable storytelling, Lalita Tademy presents an all too rarely seen part of American history, complete with a provocative portrayal of the complex, unspoken bonds between slaves and slave owners. Most of all, she gives us the saga of real, flesh-and-blood women making hard choices in the face of unimaginable loss, securing their identity and independence in order to face any obstacle, and inspiring all the generations to come.

Chapter One
Cane River, Louisiana, 1834

On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madame Françoise Derbanne slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes. Before the plantation bell sounded she had startled awake, tuned her ears to the careless breathing of Mam'zelle above her in the four-poster bed, listened for movement from the rest of the sleeping household, and quietly pushed herself up from her straw pallet on the floor.

Suzette made her way quickly down the narrow hall, beyond the wall altar, and past the polished mahogany grandfather clock in the front room, careful to sidestep the squeaky board by the front door. Outside on the gallery, her heart thudded so wildly that the curiosity of the sound helped soften the fear. Her breath felt too big for her chest as she inched past the separate entrance to the stranger's room and around to the side of the big house where the prized bushes waited.

Barefoot into the darkness, aided only by the slightest ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Philomene says that to be a slave was "to have nothing but still have something left to lose." Discuss the profound, but different, losses suffered by each generation of women.

  2. The relationships between Suzette, Philomene and Emily and the white fathers of their children range from flat-out rape, to calculated financial arrangements cemented by childbearing, to real, if forbidden and dangerous love. What did you find most surprising about these often complex relationships?

  3. Do you think Doralise was in a position to help Suzette and Philomene more than she did?

  4. Cane River dramatizes the roots of turmoil within America's black community on issues of skin color. Emily, for example, is described by the author as being...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Dee Miller, Volume One Book Shop, Dickson, TN
I enjoyed this book so much, I would get up early to read before going to work....This is a common story in our country's past but I felt Ms. Tademy wrote so well, and with her documentation put a fresh approach to this sad story. I hope she writes more.

Author Blurb Amy Loewy, Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans, LA
Cane River is an incredible act of love. A story of three generations of strong women, slaves and the complexity of their lives, and the importance of family. Lalita Tademy has imbued life and blood into her family history, capturing you with her first sentence and only releasing you with her final word.

Author Blurb Jeri Myrick, Booktraders of Arkansas, Conway, AR
Absolutely loved it!! Cane River is one of those few novels that must be read and read again to fully understand the characters and their culture, their feelings and their history.

Author Blurb Everett Barrineau, retired Penguin/Putnam sales rep, and 1999 SEBA Rep of the Year
Cane River exceeds and excels on every level. I think a new thesaurus would have to be published to find the right words to describe Cane River. I was awed! I can't remember reading a first novel that has so impressed me or moved me in years. The only book I could come close to comparing Cane River with would be Margaret Walker's novel Jubilee....CANE RIVER will be one of those books I will indeed reread. It is like listening to a great symphony; one does not tire from hearing it played many times. Thus it is with Cane River. This wonderful first novel will not leave one satisfied with just one reading.

Author Blurb Elaine Petrocelli, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA
"I can't stop telling everyone who will listen about Cane River."

Author Blurb Everett Barrineau, retired Penguin/Putnam sales rep, and 1999 SEBA Rep of the Year
Cane River exceeds and excels on every level. I think a new thesaurus would have to be published to find the right words to describe Cane River. I was awed! I can't remember reading a first novel that has so impressed me or moved me in years. The only book I could come close to comparing Cane River with would be Margaret Walker's novel Jubilee....CANE RIVER will be one of those books I will indeed reread. It is like listening to a great symphony; one does not tire from hearing it played many times. Thus it is with Cane River. This wonderful first novel will not leave one satisfied with just one reading.

Good Housekeeping

...a unique and absorbing historical novel that opens a window onto a disturbing period of American history...The excerpt stirred discussion among our staff; our editors found it compelling and thought-provoking. We think you will too.

Reader Reviews
Achowalogen

Author Agenda and Historical Misinformation
Lalita Tademy used the pages of this work as a forum for presenting her progenitors as "tragic mulattoes," carefully presenting their male "companions" as men taking advantage of their "possessions." To cover her tracks,...   Read More

Louise J

Riveting Family Saga
CANE RIVER covers 137 years of Lalita Tademy’s family’s history, written as fiction, but deeply rooted in years of research historical fact, and family lore. It is a family saga that covers four generations of women born into slavery and searching ...   Read More

Chris

CANE RIVER
A must read!!. I am left in awe at the way the author put a historical story of the Louisiana French&Black (now African American) women they used & loved. The loyalty to children by the non-husband-father and, of course, the mothers. Seldom...   Read More

Bishop Roy Fuller

Cane Rive
Love this book. She should make a movie next.

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