So Far Back

Written by Pam Durban
Review by Sarah L. Nesbeitt

For generations, the women of one black Charleston family have served the Hilliards — first as slaves, later as hired servants. When a flood disrupts the contents of Louisa Hilliard Marion’s ancestral home, she is forced to sift through old family artifacts. In coming across the 1837 diary of Eliza Hilliard, an early mistress of the house, Louisa learns of the harsh conditions to which the plantation’s slaves were subjected – and, in so doing, she stirs up a ghost. It is up to Louisa to determine exactly who the ghost is, and what she wants.

The moral of the story, one’s inability to escape the past, is a bit too obvious, as is the social commentary on slavery that inevitably follows. It is as a historical novel, however, that So Far Back truly excels. Lengthy excerpts from Eliza’s diary comprise the center sections, and the image of slavery is made even more disturbing when shown through the eyes of a socially-conscious woman who ironically sees herself as one of the kinder slaveowners. Eliza’s portrayal is not completely unsympathetic, however, as she has her share of sorrows to deal with, and her attitude toward slaves doesn’t seem that unusual for the time.

The novel follows a predictable path, and as such the conclusion is not all that unexpected. But even after all is said and done, one comes away with the distinct impression that the story between the black and white inhabitants of Charleston is still not quite over.