Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

Title:  Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen
Author:  Sarah Bird
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2018. 416 pages.
ISBN:  1250193168 / 978-1250193162

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Here's the first thing you need to know about Miss Cathy Williams:  I am the daughter of a daughter of a queen and my mama never let me forget it."

Favorite Quote:  "You'll see what black folk won. War was the easy part, buttercup. Peace with white folks gon be a whole new war. War we be fighting alone."

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen does so many things that I love about historical fiction. It introduces me to a history I did not know. It presents the basis of a history in a readable story. It motivates me to research the actual history for I always remember the wide gap between actual history and historical fiction.

Cathy Williams was born into slavery but always taught that she was the daughter of a daughter of a queen. She was taught that she was a captive and not a slave. Those lessons came from her mother and from stories of her grandmother.

This book begins during the Civil War when Cathy is a young woman. The plantation on which Cathy lived was attacked by Union soldiers following the command of Philip Sheridan. This corps applied General Sheridan's approach of destroying the food supplies, crops, and homes of those they attacked. The logic was that destroying the infrastructure cripples the enemy from recovering and attacking. At the conclusion of the attack, Cathy was mistaken for young man and taken by the unit as an assistant to the regiment cook. The truth is discovered, but Cathy remained with the unit until the conclusion of the war.

The end of the Civil War brought a new conundrum. These former slaves were now free, but they truly had no where to go and no support system to turn to. Cathy Williams made a bold decision. She disguised herself as a man and joined the US Army under the name William Cathay. Even under false pretenses, she was the first African-American woman to enlist in the US Army. She became a member of the Buffalo Soldiers. This nickname was given to the all-Black regiments that were part of the peacetime US Army. The regiments headed west and fought in the Indian Wars. Interestingly, the US Army was not operationally integrated until the Korean War, and all combat positions were opened to women in the US armed forces only in 2016.

I won't say what the end of the story was for that is the book. Several things indicate that this book is more fiction than history. The basis of the story is true as researched. However, the research I have done does not show much detail about Cathy William's life, just scant highlights. That appears plausible for her story did not come to light until much later in her life; not many would have had reason to track the life of this one woman. Also, this book is a very personal story of a woman's life and presents both personal and romantic details that are likely not documented in history. That tone is my reminder that historical fiction is indeed not history. In addition, the characters in the story are relatively one dimenstion; the good are all good, and the bad are awful. That does not capture the dimensions of each individual.

Regardless, the book is readable. It reinforces the point that US history is comprised of the contributions of people of all races, colors, and backgrounds. It also reflects on the history of slavery, racism, and sexism. Most of all, the book brings to light an inspiring story of a courageous woman and prompts me to research and read the actual history.

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

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