Summary and book reviews of Red River by Lalita Tademy

Red River

by Lalita Tademy

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

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Book Summary

This is a story about men whose lives began in slavery, who weathered the Civil War; newly freed men who have to fight for their liberties, hoping the federal government will come to their aid. But after a deadly racial massacre, once-proud families are left to deal with the wreckage and find the strength to push on.

Come closer. This is not a story to go down easy, and the backwash still got hold of us today. The history of a family. The history of a country. From bondage to the joy of freedom…and then back into darkness, so fearsome that don't nobody want to talk about the scary time. 1873. Wasn't no riot like they say. It was a massacre... -From Red River.

Hailed as "powerful," "accomplished," and "spellbinding," Lalita Tademy's first novel Cane River was a New York Times bestseller and the 2001 Oprah Book Club Summer Selection. Now with her evocative, luminous style and painstaking research, she takes her family's story even further, back to a little-chronicled, deliberately-forgotten time...and the struggle of three extraordinary generations of African-American men to forge brutal injustice and shattered promise into a limitless future for their children... Red River.

For the newly-freed black residents of Colfax, Louisiana, the beginning of Reconstruction promised them the right to vote, own property-and at last control their own lives.

Tademy saw a chance to start a school for his children and neighbors. His friend Israel Smith was determined to start a community business and gain economic freedom. But in the space of a day, marauding whites would "take back" Colfax in one of the deadliest cases of racial violence in the South. In the bitter aftermath, Sam and Israel's fight to recover and build their dreams will draw on the best they and their families have to give - and the worst they couldn't have foreseen. Sam's hidden resilience will make him an unexpected leader, even as it puts his conscience and life on the line. Israel finds ironic success - and the bitterest of betrayals. And their greatest challenge will be to pass on to their sons and grandsons a proud heritage never forgotten - and the strength to meet the demands of the past and future in their own unique ways.

An unforgettable achievement, a history brought to vibrant life through one of the most memorable families in fiction, Red River is about fathers and sons, husbands and wives-and the hopeful, heartbreaking choices we all must make to claim the legacy that is ours.

1935

Come closer. This is not a story to go down easy, and the backwash still got hold of us today. The history of a family. The history of a country. From bondage to the joy of freedom, and almost ten hopeful years drinking up the promise of Reconstruction, and then back into the darkness, so fearsome don't nobody want to talk about the scary time. Don't nobody want to remember even now, decades removed, now things better some. Why stir up all that old mess from way back in 1873? I don't hold with that point of view. I was there, watching, like all the women done, up close some of the time but mostways from a distance. They all dead and buried now. I outlast each one, using up my time on earth and some of theirs too. One hundred last birthday, trapped in this wasted body. All I do now is remember and pray the story don't get lost forever. It woulda suit Lucy fine, everybody forgetting. Lucy and me, that the only thing we usta argue about, when we was both clear-minded...

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A gripping generational saga covering 60 years of Tademy's family's history up until the 1930s, as they struggle against poverty, racial attacks, and natural disasters to establish secure lives for themselves.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (790 words).

Media Reviews

Historical Novels Review - Nancy J. Attwell

Editor's Choice. It is accomplishment enough to write a novel that so poignantly exposes the indignities endured by one group of people during one small period of history, but the author’s stunning achievement is to tell a story that, despite its specificity of time, place, and race, universalizes both the suffering and the sacrifice. More than a family saga, Red River is a clear glass that illuminates the misery of injustice and the magnificence of sacrifice, wherever they are found. Bravo!

Kirkus Reviews

The first half of the book sheds light on an overlooked event, and is rife with palpable tension, but the author tries to cram far too much history and family drama into the second half. What starts as a page-turner becomes an overblown saga.

Booklist - Vanessa Bush

Tademy brings drama and pathos to an epic account of her family history and a shameful account of our nation's history..[she] is establishing herself as a compelling chronicler of the complex history of slavery and race in America.

Library Journal

This engrossing and eyeopening emotional family saga spans several generations while bringing an African American perspective to a very painful time in U.S. history. Strongly recommended.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Combining family anecdotes with historical research and a rich imagination, Tademy crafts another American epic.

The Scotsman - Chitira Ramaswarmy

Tademy's bold, controlled account of these horrific events never shies away from the gruesome facts, or becomes overwrought, which is a remarkable feat considering her emotional attachment to the story and its characters.

Sam and his magnificent wife Polly are the most well-drawn characters in a book which tends to become overcrowded with relatives ...... The same fate occasionally befalls Tademy's writing, which verges on clumsiness when it dips in and out of the African-American voice and a more neutral authorial style that just isn't as strong. Still, in such a powerful account of inequality, injustice, violence and grim determination, these are small concerns.

That Tademy has rewritten the history books and exposed the so-called "riot" for what it really was - the massacre of innocent black men by white men who acted with complete impunity - marks this out as a book of grave importance.

Reader Reviews

Honored in South Carolina

Your Ancestors must be proud of you!
I've read both of your books. I was taken back in history and gone the journey with you and yours. I have never heard of the "Massacre" until I picked up Red River. Your books should be on everyone's personal bookshelf. I will share these with my ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Lalita Tademy was born in Berkeley, California, far from her parents' southern roots. Nonetheless, her parents made sure their household (Louisiana West) maintained a definite non-California edge, including a steady supply of grits, gumbo, cornbread, and collard greens, and a stream of other transplanted southerners eager to share their "back-home" stories.

Lalita decided early that independence and self-sufficiency trumped personal amusement, and set out with dogged determination and methodical resolve to fashion a career. Twenty years later she ...

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