Cane River, Lalita Tademy’s literary debut, is a stunning family saga mixed with incredible historical detail and honest, yet brutal and painful, descriptions of five generations of black women struggling to survive America’s darkest days of racial inequality. Tademy left a stellar career in Silicon Valley to research her own family’s history. The resulting novel spans one hundred years and five generations of black women in rural central Louisiana from the slavery of the 1830’s, through the Civil War and the end of slavery, to the harsh segregation of the 1930’s.
Beginning with her great-great-great-grandmother, Suzette, Tademy gives readers an honest rendering of slave life and the fears these women faced: sexual advances from white men, the breaking up or selling of their families, and the harsh and uncertain future as slaves. She beautifully recreates that world and narrates a moving tale of love, death, betrayal, and survival down through the years to her great-grandmother, Emily “Tite” Fredieu.
Although Tademy does admit to changing a date, name, or place for the purpose of narrative flow, the story she crafts is all the more riveting because it tells a true tale. By including family photos, she greatly increases the dramatic impact of her ancestors by allowing readers to pair faces with her words on the page.
Anyone wishing to explore this rarely presented viewpoint in America’s racial history or simply looking for a well-written work with incredibly well developed characters and compelling narrative should find a copy of Lalita Tademy’s Cane River as soon as possible.