A Journey Along Cane River

Cane River by Lalita Tademy

Published April 2001 by Grand Central Publishing

Cane River book cover

A blend of fact and fiction, Cane River explores the history of Tademy’s family. Tademy tells the story of four generations of her slave-born female ancestors: Elisabeth, Suzette, Philomene, and Emily, all born along the Cane River in Louisiana. Their stories revolve around how they try to create a better life for themselves and their children while constantly having to find a way to work within and around the limits that society has placed upon them.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first picked up Cane River. I didn’t know much about it beyond what was written on the back cover. I hadn’t done much research into the book, and I’d initially thought it would be pure fiction. It is fiction, but it’s fiction based heavily, I was surprised to find, on historical evidence related to Tademy’s family.

Each time I picked up Cane River, I found it difficult to put down. I couldn’t wait to find out more about the women at the heart of the story. The family photos throughout the book add another dimension. The story of these women demonstrates how complicated race is, and seeing the photos illustrates that complexity perfectly. I love old photographs. When I worked for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, one of the best perks was having access to all the old photos I wanted. The good people there have digitized a great many of them and put them online, so I still have access to a lot of them. Whenever a book features photos like those that Tademy includes, that book almost always gets a few bonus points from me.

The writing in Cane River is excellent, though I was disappointed at times when there seemed to be no closure to a character’s story. The few times that this happened, I had to remind myself that there isn’t meant to be closure all the time, especially since what happens in the book isn’t purely fiction. This was based on real life, and in real life, you don’t get closure for every situation you encounter.

My rating: 5 stars out of 5

You’ll probably enjoy this book if you like:

  • History
  • African-American Culture
  • Southern Culture
  • Historical Fiction

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