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Conjure Women by Afia Atakora @AfiaAtakora @4thEstateBooks #ConjureWomen #AfiaAtakora #TheClqrt #BookReveiw #BookBlog #BlackHistory #HistoricalFiction

4th Estate Books April 2020

Book Description

Freedomtime, 1867. Rue is a midwife and healer, living with other former slaves on the only land she knows, an old plantation where the burned ruins of a once-grand mansion are a silent sentinel to a bygone world. Rue protects the secrets she’s carried since before the war, the memories of her strange friendship with the master’s daughter, Varina, and the loss of her mother, May Belle, who taught her everything she knows about the gathering of herbs for healing and the crafting of curses. Rue’s quiet life is disrupted by the birth of a pale child with black eyes, a charismatic travelling preacher and a devastating sickness that haunts her community.

Slaverytime, 1854. Slaves and even masters visit May Belle to benefit from her healing powers – as well as from her uncanny ability to cast misfortune on those who deserve it. But May Belle’s talents put her and the man she loves in harm’s way. On the eve of the war, tragedy strikes, and a reckoning comes for May Belle, Rue, and the people on the plantation.

My Thoughts

Too many books and not enough time, this is a major problem and the only reason why proof copies of books sit on my shelf long after publication date. Conjure Women is one such book and a buddy read with 2 bookish buddies across on Instagram was exactly the prompt I needed to pick up this book.

Moving back and forth in time between the years before and after the American Civil War, we follow the story of May Belle – a healer – a conjure woman who passes her gift and knowledge down to her daughter Rue. Detailing the lives of a group of slaves on a plantation and with specific leaning towards the lives of women, who are tended by May Belle and later her daughter through pregnancy and child birth. Perceived healing powers and use of ‘magic’, plants and rituals earn Rue suspicion and suggestions of witchery.

A strong plot embeds the reader firmly in this community, closely observing the friendship between Rue and Varina, as children ignorant of the divide between them. As they grow, Varina’s careless use of words starkly highlight the power of the white girl and the powerlessness of the black slaves. This differential is highlighted again and again through the book as we witness the treatment of black people, both as slaves and when free.

Later the concept of freedom and the fear accompanying it, the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in the wake of the American Civil War. The horrors of this coupled with the horrors of enslaved people make this book a harsh read at times, but an important read throughout. The writing was dense and took some time to get used to and I would suggest this book could best be read and absorbed in just one or two sittings. Divided into 5 sections of roughly 80 pages, there is a lot happening in this book, a work of historical fiction, drawing from the real stories of slaves. The result is an informative, engaging read that feels very important as we strive towards a more egalitarian world and books such as Conjure Women help us to learn, reflect, understand and seek to address the horrors of the past; of slavery, and now as we continue to see racism and inequality resulting in death and injustice.

About the Author

Afia Atakora was born in the United Kingdom and raised in New Jersey, where she now lives. She graduated from New York University and has an MFA from Columbia University. Her fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and she was a finalist for the Hurston / Wright Award for College Writers. Conjure Women is her first novel.

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