Reading guide for Red River by Lalita Tademy

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Red River

by Lalita Tademy

Red River by Lalita Tademy X
Red River by Lalita Tademy
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2008, 420 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  • It's a tragic fact that the voices of many African-Americans who endured slavery in America were never recorded. Lalita Tademy's decision to re-create these lost voices by using the format of a historical novel is her artistic response to this gap in our national history. Does her artistic decision work for you?

     
  • The Prologue is written in the voice of Polly Tademy as she turns 100 in 1935. As the wife of Sam Tademy, she had lived through the Colfax massacre of Easter Sunday 1873. Of herself and her women friends, she writes: "Outlasting our men — our husbands, our sons, even some grandsons. We all had it hard, but the men, they had it worse, specially those what come up on life from the front." From what you read in Red River, do you agree that the African-American males in this historical novel "had it worse"? Discuss why you agree or disagree.

     
  • One premise of Red River seems to be that after the Civil War—leading all the way up to the present—black men suffered a particular kind of degradation different from that which black women suffered. Do you agree with this basic premise? Furthermore, in Red River, would you say that the author deliberately sets out to explore more deeply the struggles of the male characters than those of the female characters?

     
  • Again in the Prologue, Polly Tademy extols the achievements of African-American males of her era: "What our colored men try to do for the rest of us in Colfax matter. They daren't be forgot. While we women keep the wheel spinning, birthing the babies and holding together a decent home to raise them in, taking care of them what too young or too old to take care of theyself, our menfolks does battle how they got to in a world want to see them broke down and tame." In this novel, do you see a comparison between the female struggling to tend the home fires, and the male struggling to compete and survive with dignity in the hostile world outside the home?

     
  • In Chapter 1, Israel Smith describes his obligation to occupy the Colfax Courthouse as "a citizen's job." Discuss the special significance of a black man's progressing from slave status to that of a full-fledged, free citizen of the United States.

     
  • In Chapter 2, Isaac "McCully" McCullen talks about his brown fedora as his "voting hat." When he first exercised his right to vote (casting his vote for the Republican Party), he wore this hat. He placed a heron feather in its brim and called it "a rare feather from the phoenix bird what lived in the desert for five hundred years, go up in flames, raise itself up brand new from the ashes." Discuss why the phoenix rising from the ashes is an inspiring image for African-Americans emerging from the slave era in America.

     
  • McCully's brown fedora is passed down from generation to generation. Discuss why an authentic relic from a historic event acquires deeper and deeper meaning with the passage of time. Do you agree that each new generation should be taught to understand and preserve and cherish these relics that commemorate an ancestor's achievements?

     
  • Scattered throughout Red River, there are over forty-four "Figures," which are actual documents, photographs, and drawings from the historical record. Discuss how the author's inclusion of historical documentation in the midst of her novel's fictional world enhances or detracts from your reading experience.

     
  • In Chapter 6, Sam Tademy learns that Spenser stole large quantities of foodstuffs from Craft's store to feed the men and their families who had been uprooted to occupy and defend the Colfax Courthouse. Sam opposes this theft on principle; others support it for a variety of reasons. Discuss both views: those opposing the theft, and those supporting it.

     
  • In the days leading up to the Colfax massacre, Jessie McCullen is murdered by a band of white men, and at the memorial service for Jessie, Sam Tademy expresses his opposition to the impending conflict. He says: "One day, Lord willing, we build a colored school right here in Colfax...We need education, not bullets. That the only way we win…We got to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks. That the only way progress last." Despite Sam's speech, the Colfax massacre occurs. Yet Sam, years later, will achieve his dream of a colored school in Colfax. Do you agree with Sam Tademy that the Colfax massacre ought not have happened? As he preaches nonviolence, does Sam Tademy remind you of other figures from the civil rights era in the middle of the 20th century who also preached nonviolence?

     
  • In Chapter 7, Sam Tademy's childhood recalls the small cabin in which his mother raised him and his brother, Doe, and the brief late-night visit of a man his mother introduces as his father. This father impresses upon his sons Sam and Doe: "We from far away. We wasn't brought to this country as no slave. We come free, of our own will. We come from the Nile Delta, and my daddy pay passage by his sweat-work on a ship supposed to take him to a land of opportunity...Our real name Ta-ta-mee. Say it." How does this scene affect you? Imagine a young boy meeting his father only once, in one desperate and fleeting encounter. Discuss the cataclysmic effect of such a meeting.

     
  • During the Colfax massacre, Israel Smith endures and witnesses cruelties almost beyond what the human mind can fathom. His physical body, grievously wounded, does manage to survive; however his psyche never fully recovers. Nowadays, the medical/psychiatric professions have given a diagnostic name to Israel's mental state. Post-traumatic stress syndrome is a diagnosis for soldiers, especially infantrymen who have fought in the front lines in ground combat. Do you think Israel Smith suffered from this disorder?

     
  • At one point, Jackson, comparing his race to the Caucasian race, says: "We farm better, we breed better, we [survive] better..." How does his statement affect you, a reader in the 21st century?

     
  • At Noby Smith's funeral, his brother David comes to pay his respects, and his relatives whisper in his ear, "You're not welcome here." What, in your estimation, was David's most unforgivable crime? And do you think that by this time David's family and extended family should have forgiven him for the crime?

     
  • In Red River, Lalita Tademy re-creates, in vivid scenes, numerous incidents of racially motivated hate crimes. Which incidents stayed with you the most powerfully? Why?

     
  • When Green, Jackson, and Noby go out night-hunting in Chapter 22, Green is accidentally killed. In what way is his death a catalyst in this historical novel?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Grand Central Publishing. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Price We Pay
    The Price We Pay
    by Marty Makary
    The Hippocratic Oath is one of the oldest affidavits in history, originating in ancient Greece. ...
  • Book Jacket: The Fountains of Silence
    The Fountains of Silence
    by Ruta Sepetys
    The Spanish Civil War and its aftermath was a complicated period in history. The issues each side ...
  • Book Jacket: Curious Toys
    Curious Toys
    by Elizabeth Hand
    In Curious Toys, Elizabeth Hand tells the story of Vivian, a 14-year-old girl disguised as a boy ...
  • Book Jacket: Your House Will Pay
    Your House Will Pay
    by Steph Cha
    Steph Cha's novel Your House Will Pay shows how a legacy of violence and injustice can ripple ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Nothing to See Here
    by Kevin Wilson

    A moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning caring for two children with remarkable abilities.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Mighty Justice
    by Dovey Johnson Roundtree & Katie McCabe

    An inspiring life story that speaks urgently to our troubled times.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Home for Erring and Outcast Girls

From the author of
Calling Me Home

An emotionally raw and resonant story of two young women connected by a home for "fallen girls," and inspired by historical events.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W G Up M C D

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.