Dorothy Love’s historically resonant novel is an instance where a book can be judged by its gorgeous cover. A woman in a lace-trimmed burgundy gown gazes at her much-loved home in the South Carolina Lowcountry, which lies in ruins after Yankee destruction and years of neglect. However, the soft, golden sunlight conveys hope for the future.
In 1868, 23-year-old Charlotte Fraser returns to Fairhaven, her family’s rice plantation along the Waccamaw River. Aside from old friends whose fortunes have sunk equally low after the war, she is all alone following her father’s death. Charlotte intends to keep her promise to him by making Fairhaven successful again, but many struggles lie ahead. Most of the former slaves have run off; those who remain, while poor, are reluctant to perform the same grueling work. Charlotte’s growing awareness of these changed circumstances and relationships is handled with realism.
Amid storms that destroy her crops, she is faced with an even more serious problem: with no deed to be found, her ownership of Fairhaven isn’t in the clear. To earn funds to get by, she agrees to teach her handsome neighbor’s two daughters, but the growing romance between her and Nicholas Betancourt is held back by her position as his employee and unanswered questions about their adjoining lands.
Told with an unhurried pace, Carolina Gold beautifully portrays an independent Southern woman’s coming to terms with a new way of life. Love based her heroine on Elizabeth Allston Pringle, a Reconstruction-era rice farmer who wrote columns about her plight for a New York newspaper, just as Charlotte does in the novel. (Regrettably, these important segments are printed in a tiny cursive font.) The pitch-perfect details immerse readers in the beautiful Lowcountry region, with its tidal creeks, abundant wild birds, and the heady scent of jessamine. A memorable book.