Conjure women A novel

Afia Atakora

Book - 2020

"Like her mother, Rue is an all-knowing midwife, healer, and conjurer of curses on the plantation of Marse Charles. Moving back and forth in time between the years before and after the Civil War, this novel tells the story of Rue, the families she cares for, and the mysteries and secrets she knows about the plantation owner's daughter, Varina. At the heart of this story is the intimate bonds and transgressions among people and across racial divides, during both slavery time and freedom... time."--Publisher.

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Subjects
Genres
Historical fiction
Published
New York : Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC [2020]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
400 pages ; 25 cm
ISBN
9780525511489
0525511482
Main Author
Afia Atakora (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Rue is among other formerly enslaved people who are learning to balance the choices of true freedom, post–Civil War. They remain on their plantation with no master, and a burned-down big house. Rue inherits the calling of being a midwife and a healer, taught to her by her beloved mother, May Belle. Atakora's debut floats between Rue's freedom time and her slavery time, revealing Rue's reminiscences of her mother's last days, her friendship with the master's daughter, and all the secrets she learned and developed before the war. The community's faith in Rue and her conjure practices are challenged when a preacher converts them all before a deadly sickness sweeps through the children on the plantation. Atakora skillfully intertwines the details of both time periods, which helps shape a delicate picture of Rue. The reader understands the power of her magic juxtaposed with her desire for love, family, and a sense of normalcy. Although Rue may make unethical decisions, readers root for her to protect the secrets that shield the rest of the community from further hardship. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Booklist Reviews

Rue is among other formerly enslaved people who are learning to balance the choices of true freedom, post–Civil War. They remain on their plantation with no master, and a burned-down big house. Rue inherits the calling of being a midwife and a healer, taught to her by her beloved mother, May Belle. Atakora's debut floats between Rue's freedom time and her slavery time, revealing Rue's reminiscences of her mother's last days, her friendship with the master's daughter, and all the secrets she learned and developed before the war. The community's faith in Rue and her conjure practices are challenged when a preacher converts them all before a deadly sickness sweeps through the children on the plantation. Atakora skillfully intertwines the details of both time periods, which helps shape a delicate picture of Rue. The reader understands the power of her magic juxtaposed with her desire for love, family, and a sense of normalcy. Although Rue may make unethical decisions, readers root for her to protect the secrets that shield the rest of the community from further hardship. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Around the time of the Civil War, Rue lives with her mother on the plantation of Marse Charles, where they both act as midwives, healers, and conjurers of curses. Rue, too, knows secrets about the plantation owner's daughter that she shares with stories about other families she tends. From a Pushcart nominee and finalist for the Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

DEBUT Deftly interwoven and emotionally involving, Atakora's accomplished debut moves among several eras. There's slaverytime, when Miss May Belle serves as both healer and conjurer of curses on the plantation of Marse Charles as she teaches daughter Rue her ways. There's wartime, when Union soldiers march in and Varina, the hapless but demanding daughter of the master and a childhood playmate to Rue, suffers multiple losses. And there's freedomtime, when Miss Rue, now midwife/healer to the old plantation's community of freedmen, is suspected of witchcraft, though she says she's "just a woman who knows some things." Rue feels an uncanny affinity for a difficult baby she has delivered, a baby that could be her punishment or her salvation if only she plans things correctly, and she has an equally complicated relationship with preacher Bruh Abel, whom she thinks of as a sham even as he tries to turn her from her conjuring ways. Meanwhile, a secret she hides deep in the woods drives the narrative forward. VERDICT Atakora effectively handles the before-during-and-after structure, enriching her story. If its center is the vibrant Rue, the entire community finally feels like the main character. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/19.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Atakora's haunting, promising debut explores the legacy of a Southern plantation in the years leading up to and following the Civil War. Miss May Belle, a "conjure woman" known for casting spells to relieve ailments, helps fellow enslaved women with childbirth and treats their cruel master, Marse Charles, for sexually transmitted infections. Alternating in chapters titled "Slaverytime" and "Freedomtime," Atakora follows May Belle's daughter, Rue, who learned her mother's knowledge before her death. At 20, Rue continues living on the plantation grounds with most of the other former slaves after the war ends and Marse Charles disappears. His daughter, Varina, however, stays behind in hiding from those wishing to seek vengeance for the master's abuses. After Rue helps with the birth of an unusually pale baby born with "oil-slicked black irises," the infant is blamed for the spread of a mysterious disease. A charismatic black preacher named Bruh Abel promises that a baptism will heal the afflicted, while Rue concocts her own plan and continues to secretly care for Varina, whom she grew up with and takes pity on. Through complex characters and bewitching prose, Atakora offers a stirring portrait of the power conferred between the enslaved women. This powerful tale of moral ambiguity amid inarguable injustice stands with Esi Edugyan's Washington Black. Agent: Amelia Atlas, International Creative Management. (Mar.)Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the book's title. Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A midwife and conjurer of curses reflects on her life before and after the Civil War, her relationships with the families she serves and the secrets she has learned about a plantation owner’s daughter. A first novel.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A mother and daughter with a shared talent for healing—and for the conjuring of curses—are at the heart of this dazzling first novel  LONGLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times • NPR • Parade • Book Riot • PopMatters“Lush, irresistible . . . It took me into the hearts of women I could otherwise never know. I was transported.”—Amy Bloom, New York Times bestselling author of White Houses and AwayConjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.   Magnificently written, brilliantly researched, richly imagined, Conjure Women moves back and forth in time to tell the haunting story of Rue, Varina, and May Belle, their passions and friendships, and the lengths they will go to save themselves and those they love.Praise for Conjure Women“[A] haunting, promising debut . . . Through complex characters and bewitching prose, Atakora offers a stirring portrait of the power conferred between the enslaved women. This powerful tale of moral ambiguity amid inarguable injustice stands with Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)“An engrossing debut . . . Atakora structures a plot with plenty of satisfying twists. Life in the immediate aftermath of slavery is powerfully rendered in this impressive first novel.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)