Cane River is Lalita Tademy’s riveting family saga published in 2001. A blend of fact and fiction not unlike Blonde, it chronicles four generations of strong-willed women born to slavery along the Cane River in Louisiana as they navigate their way from slavery to freedom. I read this in Cincinnati while ensconced in the opera house now ironically situated in the middle of the black ghetto. Talk about contrast on so many levels! I devoured it.
“It is a tale about the blurring of racial boundaries: great-grandmother Elisabeth notices an unmistakable ‘bleaching of the line’ as first her daughter Suzette, then her granddaughter Philomene, and finally her great-granddaughter Emily choose (or are forcibly persuaded) to bear the illegitimate offspring of the area’s white French planters. In many cases these children are loved by their fathers, and their paternity is widely acknowledged. However, neither state law nor local custom allows them to inherit wealth or property, a fact that gives Cane River much of its narrative drive.
“In her introduction, Tademy explains that as a young woman, she failed to appreciate the love and reverence with which her mother and her four uncles spoke of their lively Grandma ‘Tite (short for ‘Mademoiselle Petite’). She resented her great-grandmother’s skin-color biases, which were as much a part of Tademy’s memory as were her great-grandmother’s trademark dance moves. But the old stories haunted the author, and armed with a couple of pages of history compiled by a distant Louisiana cousin, she began to piece together a genealogy. The result? Tademy eventually left her position as vice president of a Fortune 500 company and set to work on Cane River, in which she has deftly and movingly reconstructed the world of her ancestors.”