Red River/Lalita Tademy

When I heard that Lalita Tademy had released a new book, Red River, I was really excited for a couple of reasons. The first one was that I had read Cane River, the chronicle of the times of her mother’s ancestors. The second was that I was very familiar with the area of Louisiana in which the story takes place, as I was with Cane River. I had good reason to be excited. Lalita Tademy combines her extensive research, family lore and imagination to create another compelling tale of the triumphs of African Americans in the face of adversity.
Cane River, Tademy’s first novel, follows the life and times of her maternal line, from slavery to the early 1930s. Red River begins around 1873, the date of the Colfax Riot. The ironic thing about the riot is, well, it wasn’t a riot. The largely black state militia was butchered to the tune of about 200 deaths by some accounts (many of the bodies were buried and hidden) while only three whites fell during the slaughter. Further alarming, is the fact that a huge marble monument stands in tribute to the fall of those three men for “white supremacy”.
The blacks were at the courthouse to defend their vote (the democratic incumbent sheriff refused to vacate his post).
As a result of the “riot”, black people lost their vote and were intimidated for decades by the forces responsible for the slaughter and their descendants.
The book follows the journeys, in the aftermath, of two families who eventually become one, the Smiths and the Tademys. They are her father’s ancestors. The intra-discrimination among blacks plays more of a background role than in the previous novel, but it is of a reverse nature.
Whiteness in the form of European features, most notably light skin, are seen as a mark of quality, a means of privilege by Suzanne and Emily in Cane River.
In Red River, Israel Smith and Lucy Smith, recently liberated slaves, have two sons. One of them, David, is obviously the result of Lucy’s rape at the hands of a white man on their last plantation. Israel hates David, often neglecting him in favor of Noby, his first born son in freedom. This sets the brothers on a path of bitterness and resentment that has painful, life-altering consequences for their entire family.
As with Cane River, Red River has photographs of landmarks and the people involved in the story. which makes the story more interesting. I also really enjoyed the book because of the strength of the men involved in the story and balanced portrayal of the women. I was supposed to donate it to the library, but I might have to sneak a copy for myself, because it’s really good.

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