Summary and book reviews of Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Conjure Women

by Afia Atakora

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora X
Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2021, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Debbie Morrison
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About this Book

Book Summary

A mother and daughter with a shared talent for healing - and for the conjuring of curses - are at the heart of this dazzling first novel.

Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother's footsteps as a midwife; and their master's daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.
 
Magnificently written, brilliantly researched, richly imagined, Conjure Women moves back and forth in time to tell the haunting story of Rue, Varina, and May Belle, their passions and friendships, and the lengths they will go to save themselves and those they love.

FREEDOMTIME
1867

The black baby's crying wormed and bloomed. It woke Rue by halves from her sleep so that through the first few strains of the sound she could not be sure when or where she was, but soon the feeble cry strengthened, like a desperate knocking at her front door, and she came all the way awake, and knew that she was needed, again.

She unwound herself from her thin linen sheet. If there were dreams, she'd lost them now that she'd stood up. There was only the crying, not so loud as it was strange, unsettling. She smoothed her nightmare hair and made ready her face. Stepped out from her cabin, barefooted.

At the center of the town, between the gathering of low cabins that sat close and humble, Rue could make out the collection of folks, like herself, who'd been drawn from their sleep by the haunting cry. Anxious, bedraggled, they emerged to suppose at that unearthly sound. It was a moonless night, the clouds colluding to block out the stars, and the crowd knitted itself ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Conjure Women is a novel rooted as much in its place as its people. It is steeped in natural imagery, linking (in ways as complicated as the history of black people in the Americas) those enslaved, and later dispossessed people, to the places they inhabit. These spaces are treacherous, barren and haunted, yet they are also restorative and transformational. These dichotomies are one of the hallmarks of the book, creating a kind of undulating suspense and release, hope and loss, elation and melancholy that ultimately reaffirms what the characters in the novel have always known: despite their magic, this life and this work could never have a fairy tale ending...continued

Full Review (863 words).

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(Reviewed by Debbie Morrison).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
Atakora paces her novel beautifully, slowly unwinding the plot in unexpected ways as she examines a relatively unexplored aspect of American history.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Through complex characters and bewitching prose, Atakora offers a stirring portrait of the power conferred between the enslaved women. This powerful tale of moral ambiguity amid inarguable injustice stands with Esi Edugyan's Washington Black.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Mother-child relationships, especially, are at the center of the book. Using frequent flashbacks to 'slaverytime' and 'wartime' and occasional jumps to the future, Atakora structures a plot with plenty of satisfying twists...Life in the immediate aftermath of slavery is powerfully rendered in this impressive first novel.

Library Journal (starred review)
Atakora effectively handles the before-during-and-after structure, enriching her story. If its center is the vibrant Rue, the entire community finally feels like the main character. Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Amy Bloom, New York Times bestselling author of White Houses
This novel, written in lush, irresistible, and poetic prose, took me into the lives of people in another time and place—into their loves, nightmares, dreams, their unexpected ties—and into the hearts of women I could otherwise never know. I was transported.

Author Blurb Caleb Johnson, author of Treeborne
In Conjure Women, Afia Atakora masterfully centers two generations of women, folk healers who carry the secrets of their community while bearing the brunt of its antebellum past and its reconstructed present. Telling a gripping story at once grand and intimate, Atakora renders humanity in all its beautiful fits and flaws. Page after page, her voice announces itself like a thunderclap. The women in this novel will blessedly stick with you long after the last word has been read.

Author Blurb Martha Hall Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of Lilac Girls
Afia Atakora brings the Civil War South to life so beautifully with Conjure Women, a heartbreaking joy to read.

Reader Reviews

lani

Slavery, women and hoodoo
Voodoo.Hoodoo.Healing.The Civil War.Mother/child love.Midwifery.Slavery.These are an intricate part of Atakora's debut novel so intimately expressed with breathtaking intensity. The time period is before and after the devastation of the Civil War ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Flying African in the Americas

The People Who Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton book coverThe story of the flying African is as old as the history of Africans in the Americas. Thus, it is no surprise that this trope finds its way into Afia Atakora's debut novel, Conjure Women.

The basic notion behind the folktale lies in a secret power, a secret magic known to a select few. This power allows a person to grow wings, or in some cases to transform into a bird. Typically, it was those Africans who still had direct memory of their homeland who could call up this power or initiate it in others in order to facilitate an escape from slavery. Those who had been to Africa and could still remember it could reach it in flight.

As it has its origins in oral history, it's no coincidence that the notion of the Flying African has had ...

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