I was born in the early 50’s and came of age in the late 60’s. I remember the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of the front page of a mid-western daily newspaper. Some how in history class – we never got past WW2 and our understanding of carpetbaggers and tarring and feathering came mostly from Wagon Train reruns. – All Woefully inadequate.
This book was the first real window into racism for me. I was shocked and horrified. I grew up sheltered from racism – and never imagined the depth of hate. I read several of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s books years ago and understood how awful slavery was – but I thought it was fixed by the Civil War. I am so sorry
If you are white, you probably don’t really understand and you really need to read this book.
Natchez Burning! offered some interesting theories and illustrated the sick bigotry that was rampant in the south in the Mid 1900’s. However, I am not sure what the author’s purpose was in writing the book. He presented several subplots about aborted attempts on JFK and R Kennedy and MLK. His fictitious “club” of Double Eagles consisted of several persons who had run wild as a brazen execution team in the sixties and the attempt by several people to bring them to justice 30+ years later. The set up and explanations required a glut of words that slowed everything. Then in the final scenes there were too many turn abouts. The ‘bad guys’ were in complete control of the ‘good guys’ but failed to eliminate them. There were several “last second” reprieves. No one wastes this much time getting around to killing someone they want dead – especially not this group of people who had killed so heartlessly most of their lives. Finally the end of the plot line for Penn and Tom is very unsatisfactory. It felt like the editor stepped in and said, “That is enough – end it already.” Major characters had issues that weren’t resolved. I stuck with the story to the end and there were parts that had promise, but I put down the book with a sense of dissatisfaction.
We all have secret lives – but there is a universality of humanity that makes us all the same. There is a beautiful poignancy about this book that takes me back to haunt my own childhood. The narrator does such an exquisite job that it genuinely feels as if Lily is telling her own story with the beautiful simplicity of a 14 year old girl struggling to survive in an all too common reality.
This is a beautifully written story that all women should read – many of us have lived it in another life.
This book will join Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s other great book Dread: The Story of the Great Dismal Swamp as one in a trio of greats on my reading list. In some ways it offers a slightly “sanitized” version of slavery that the people of high culture in Charleston might not even be shamed by; that makes it all the more horrifying when you hear the white mistress’s rationalizations for each block in Charlotte’s story quilt. While H.B. Stowe drives the reader to his/her knees with the most horrifying examples of slavery, S. M. Kidd guides us each gently, inviting us to love a story and the characters and allowing us to see how we might have been able to rationalize our own roles in established debauchery. Nothing makes this more obvious than the elder mistress agreeing to free certain slaves at her death. While a confession implies she understands her guilt – her self-imposed penance costs her nothing.
The Wedding Gift: The story was good but not excellent. I don’t think it adequately portrayed the horrors of the slave trade. Nor did it create a group of people with whom I could identify. I expected more from the book. I found myself re-listening to chapter after chapter, buried in details. A few of the relationships in the book were interesting enough – but many were superficial. I wasn’t drawn in to them as I usually am. The plot seemed in some senses formulaic. A horrific and brutal beating of a female slave in front of her children and all the other slaves. A master who impregnated slaves at a whim – all part of good husbandry for the plantation. Slaves running from dogs. Etc… I felt like it was “just enough” of each to hit some quota.
I do think the story accurately presented women in law and society at that time. The legal maneuvering about the marriage agreement was very interesting. It was as complicated as our prenuptial agreements today.
Spoiler Alert from this point on:
I think the ending was unrealistic. I don’t believe a plantation owner would free the number of slaves Cornelius freed at his death. I didn’t see any true reform or growth in him that would have resulted in such an act and it would have been too financially crippling for even a huge financial cotton empire like the one Cornelius was running.
The “issue” with the baby was never clear. We knew that the baby wasn’t the husband’s but we were led to believe we knew who the father probably was – another white suitor. We knew the timing was going to be “fudged” so when the baby came early – we expected there could be trouble. However, Clarissa was known to be pregnant before the marriage so the marriage deal took this into consideration so it shouldn’t have been a deal breaker. The financial value of the deal was huge and the husband wanted it badly enough to fight for it in court after casting Clarissa out – it would have been much more believable if he just sent Clarissa and the child to another home in silent disgrace and the reward would have been his without argument. As an example: It would have also been very acceptable for Clarissa to have returned to her parent’s home for her “confinement” where she would have had good care from well-trained midwives that she knew, and where the child’s precocious development could have been covered quite easily by people who would have protected the information. Instead, the baby is delivered at the home of an unloving husband by an incompetent doctor who leaves the birth in “disgust” to report to the father. It seems obvious that his failure to help complete the birthing process directly contributes to Clarissa’s death. She is then shuttled off to her parent’s home before she should have been moved. At first the implication was baby was just more mature than it should have been – later it is also obvious the child was at least part black. It isn’t ever made clear how this happened. (It could have been that there was a black ancestor who had been well hidden before this time!) – regardless, Clarissa’s whole life unravels very quickly from this point on. Even with the cultural pressures of the time, most people found ways to keep their families together and survive this type of scandal. It would have been more believable if they had reported the child dead at birth to Clarissa and the world at large. This would have been very believable since it was early according to the wedding date and because so many children were lost at birth. The baby could then have been given to a slave to raise on another plantation. Instead, this family seems determined to take the worst path and make the worst choices. The whole family dissolves.
There was one pleasant surprise. Sarah quietly amidst all the upheaval pulls off a great coup of revenge that we never expected her to be capable of.