!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
It is the end of the American civil war and slavery had just been abolished. People were jubilantly dancing in the streets of America. An era came to an end.
Although it was one of the purposes of the war to establish freedom for everyone, nobody really seemed to grasp the real meaning of the concept. Those who finally gained their freedom were the least prepared for it. For most of them slavery was bad, but peace brought much worse consequences than ever envisioned. You could say the battle was won but the war was not over and some of the more optimistic celebrators did not know what was waiting on the other side. For those who never knew freedom, who were born in slavery, the thought of freedom was a highly unsettling and frightening idea. After all, people were still white, and other black. And the whites still regarded the black people as something similar to dogs or horses. Not human. No, not human at all.
"In physical deportment, intellectual capacity, and moral integrity, white men were set apart from all the other races of the world. That includes your red man, your yellow man, and most certainly, your black man.”
Bostonian Prudence Cafferty Kent's father warned her. “When this war is finished, when the Union is restored, this government will do nothing for the colored man. It will free him and then it will leave him to fend for himself in a hostile and resentful land. It will require people like us, people of means, to fill in the gaps.”
In memory of her late father, she decided to move down south and establish a school for the newly freed slave children in a building belonging to her father. She wanted to make a difference. She felt it was her calling. Her husband gave his life to make a difference as well. She had to carry on their visions and wishes. But Prudence was an inexperienced, and a simply stubborn, mulish, headstrong person who envisioned herself as the savior of many. A person who thought that her wishes would become everyone else's commands. What she found in the little town Buford, Mississippi, would not only drastically clear up her misconceptions about life, and destroy innocent people's lives, but will also make her realize how damaging her actions were for the inhabitants of Buford she tried to help.
We have lost our homes and other property. We have lost our dignity and pride. We have lost our way of life and we have lost our country. By the holy God, how much more can you Northern people expect us to lose? Would you have us surrender our sacred place in the very order of creation? We will not meekly accept that. We cannot, if we wish to still consider ourselves white men. You will not prop the Negro up as our social or political equal. We will resist that with every means at our disposal, Mrs. Kent. We will resist for a hundred years, and more.”
The intolerance, resentment, bitterness and rebellion in the different groups are pushed to the limits with her arrival and the choices she made.
Sam Freeman fled the south and landed up in Phillidelphia working as an assistant in a library when the good news arrived about the end of the war. He wanted to return to Buford to search for his wife Tilda, whom he left behind fifteen years earlier. It was a dangerous decision to make. He made an oath when he fled the bondage of Mrs. Louisa Prentiss down south, that he will return for his wife when he managed to establish a new life up north. He knew the time had come for him to go back to his roots in Mississippi. He walked a thousand miles and more, to honor the promise he made to himself.
Tilda had her own story to tell. It was a life of hardship and hell that did not end with the signing of the peace treaty, since her 'owner' refused to give up his 'property'. She had no desire or aspirations to leave her master. The unknown and the uncertainty of a free life convinced her to stay, be loyal and endure. The known was intolerable, but still better than the unknown.
Comments: Fastidious. Intense. Convincing. Excellent. What a stroke of luck it was to choose this book as my first read for 2014! I often read Leonard J. Pitt Jr's syndicated columns and had this book now for a few months stacked to be read. I love his writing style, so it was with excitement and joy that I opened this book last night and got going.
All I want to say is that it was an emotionally-charged, suspenseful read. The plot, the rawness of the events, the scenery and historical details in the book kept me reading from beginning to end without taking a break. I am not sure how well this book is received in the American psyche, but I do wish more people from all over the world can read it for the powerful message it contains about human dignity and respect and what people do to each other when one group, so often violently, is denying it to another.
There is such a wealth of pathos, character, and deeply moving moments in the book. There is the good the bad and the ugly. But mostly, there is an honesty of thought and intent rolled out in the rainbow of eloquent prose.
I recommend this book to EVERYONE!