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Saturday, April 06, 2019

African-American Pioneer Novel Grim and Affecting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Rachel—a maid in the Chicago household of a wealthy African-American widow— meets her boss's handsome son, she loses her heart completely.  And possibly her mind.  Rachel will follow the charismatic Isaac DuPree wherever he goes.  When he informs her that he will be moving to the Badlands, where land is practically free for the taking, she agrees to wed him in order to double the amount of property he'll be able to own.  Rachel knows Isaac's passion is for land, not her, and that their marriage is one of convenience only, but she's determined to show him he's chosen the right bride.  As they work the unyielding earth together, raise children in a squalid dugout, and try to eke out a life in a brutal, unwelcoming place where only the most stubborn folks survive, Rachel does her part without complaint.  When the worst comes to pass, however, she must decide what's best for her and her children.  Isaac will never leave the homestead, no matter how bad things get.  Can Rachel find the strength to do what needs to be done?  Or will she lose everything—and everyone—she's ever loved to the unforgiving land and her husband's even more relentless pride?

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber is a grim, affecting novel that pays tribute to the pioneering spirit that led to the settling of the American West.  The novel shines a special spotlight on the unique experiences of African-American pioneers, who faced prejudice and racism along with all the other hardships that came with colonizing the frontier.  Rachel is the embodiment of those tough, resourceful female settlers who had to use all their courage, ingenuity, and resilience to survive in a harsh, inhospitable landscape.  Her determination and desperation come through loud and clear, making her story intimate, gripping, and memorable.  Despite its bleakness, I enjoyed this evocative historical novel.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner, and Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. This does sound bleak, but also historically so interesting.

  2. Haven't read many books about the African-American pioneer experience. This one sounds really good.

  3. Interesting topic and one I haven’t considered. Love historical fiction, so this one is on my list!

  4. I like the sound of this one. Enjoy history.


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