Mustard Seed

Written by Laila Ibrahim
Review by Kate Braithwaite

The US Civil War is over, but in 1868 its aftereffects are still keenly felt. When Lisbeth Johnson is called back from Ohio to her family home in Virginia, she and her young children find the ways of the South hard to accept. Slavery has been abolished, but many freed slaves continue to work for their old masters, for nothing more than food and board. Others are commonly arrested on trumped-up charges and put to work in the fields with no rights of redress. At the same time, Lisbeth’s former nurse, Mattie, also travels back to Virginia with her idealistic daughter, Jordan, and her lawyer son, Sammy. Their mission is fraught with danger as they return to the place where Mattie lived in slavery and try to find the missing daughters of another slave, Sarah. While Mattie had escaped north, also to Ohio, Sarah still lives on the plantation once owned by Lisbeth’s family: a slave in all but name.

The novel provides fascinating insight into the damage done to families at every level of society by the Civil War. Lisbeth has broken with her family and made a dangerous enemy of her brother. Sarah’s daughters have been sold to pay for the wedding of her owners’ daughter, and some of the most poignant moments of the novel concern the search for these lost girls. Faith in the face of adversity is a key theme, and the story has an inspirational feel to it. With strong female characters and dramatic incidents aplenty, this is a page-turning read.