Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Orphan Mother, by Robert Hicks. Grand Central Publishing, 2016

Set in the summer of 1867, the story follows Mariah Reddick, freed slave and town midwife, in her quest to find out who killed her son Theopolis. Theopolis is a cobbler with dreams of entering the politics of Reconstruction era Franklin Tennessee. Killed at a political rally before he could even take the stage and speak, he is accused of having killed a white grocer. Needless to say, the government team sent to investigate is only interested in finding out who killed the white man. Helping her is George Tole, a freeborn black from New York, who is new to town and has a big secret to keep. Also on Mariah’s side is Carrie McGavock, her former owner and a historical figure. Mariah and Carrie are still negotiating a new relationship; Mariah was Carrie’s personal slave when they were children and went with Carrie when she married. They have always been close; as close as it can be when one person owns the other and holds the power of life and death over them.

The story is told from the points of view of Tole and Mariah as they look for answers. Tole’s quest is not the same as Mariah’s, though, as we learn near the end, although ultimately their aim is the same. These are complex characters; the whites around them may see them as just their occupation- the midwife, the cobbler- but they are far, far more than that. There is a lot going on beneath the surface most whites see. I should note that this is not a blacks vs. whites story; it’s just how it was in the South during Reconstruction. There is good and bad in all in this book.

This is not an easy book to read; there is a lot of human ugliness laid bare. But it was a can’t-put-it-down book for me. Very moving and tense.

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting review. I like books set in that era but as you said, the stories can be hard to read.