Saturday, July 16, 2016

Absalom's Daughters

Title:  Absalom's Daughters
Author:  Suzanne Feldman
Publication Information:  Henry Holt & Co. 2016. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1627794530 / 978-1627794534

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Cassie and Lil MA and Grandmother lived in a house at the far end of Negro Street in two rooms over the laundry that they ran in Heron-Neck."

Favorite Quote:  "People say all kinds of things .... You can't live your life by what comes out of ignorant mouths."

Cassie and Judith are teenagers. They are half-sisters. They have the same father but different mothers. Their mothers are of different races. Home is in rural Mississippi in the 1950s. Everyone knows Cassie and Judith are sisters; yet, the fact is at the same time unacknowledged.

The beginning chapters of the book paints a picture of life in rural Mississippi. Through the eyes of these young women, Cassie in particular, the reader sees the poverty and the tension and prejudice between the races. The matter of fact tone of the book points to the fact that a child born into this environment takes for granted the divisions and the struggle. That's just what life is.

The vision of a possible inheritance sets the two off on a journey north, to find their father and to claim their rightful portion of this supposed inheritance. Along the way, they meet many a character. Some help, and some hinder. Thrown in is a little bit of magic; it's unclear why, but it's in there.

In some ways, this book reminds me of another recent book Chasing the North Star. Both books are of young people coming North in the search of a better life. The time periods are different. The reasons for leaving are different. However, the journey and the tone of the books are similar. Unfortunately, both books seem to lack the intensity and the emotional impact that a story such as this could have. Here are two young women caught in a time and place of racial strife and extreme poverty. Here are two young women who basically run away from home. Here are two young, impressionable women at risk. Here are two sisters who for the first time have the opportunity to unite but who must make compromises to meet social norms. Here is a long journey with few resources. Here is a father who has abandoned both daughters. Yet, somehow, none of this emotional intensity comes through in the book. The premise is wonderful and promising, but the promise is not completely fulfilled.

Looking at the book a different way, this book is a coming-of-age story of two young women. One is chasing a dream. One is escaping the future set for her. Both face different issues because of their race and their family background. Even from this perspective, the book fails to capture me emotionally. The ending fast forwards and wraps up their stories in a neat little package. Again, the premise is wonderful and promising, but the promise is not completely fulfilled.

Note:  It was only after reading the book that I learn that the "Absalom" in the title is a reference to the William Faulkner novel Absalom, Absalom! A little research reveals that William Faulkner's book is set during and after the Civil War is the story of a white man in the South. It is a commentary on the history of the South as this book sets out to be. William Faulkner's book also involves character who have the same father but different mothers. That is another similarity with this book even through the relationships are completely different. Unfortunately, I have not read William Faulkner's book so cannot fully appreciate or comment on the reference.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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