Set on a Louisiana plantation in the summer of Lincoln's 1860 presidential campaign, this novel explores themes of identity and control. Madame Sylvie Guilbert, elderly mistress of the plantation, commissions a portrait to mark her self-perceived successes, setting off a complex chain of events among her family, guests, and the many people she enslaves. Williams-Garcia writes from the point of view of nearly every character, giving a kaleidoscope effect to the novel and highlighting the conflicting desires and opinions between characters of different races, social classes, and genders. Dominant voices include Thisbe, a woman enslaved as a personal attendant to Madame Sylvie and completely forbidden from speaking aloud, and Byron, Sylvie's grandson and the plantation heir, who is forced to hide his gay relationship with a fellow West Point cadet out of fear of repercussions from his family and community. This is an incredibly layered and meticulously researched book, the goal of which, Williams-Garcia states, is to examine the enduring legacy of racism handed down within white families, and to task her white characters with dissecting it. — Nadja Tiktinsky
“Rita Williams-Garcia immerses the reader in pre-Civil War life in Louisiana, making it impossible to ignore all the different ways that white people of all social classes exerted their power over enslaved people. Williams-Garcia explores the ties between France, the United States and Haiti, the complex position of descendants of both the enslaved and the slave owners and the ways that white people justified their atrocities. The author's note and other back matter go into detail about the research and writing process and add more layers to the narrative. A book that will stay with you long after you finish the final page.”
— Cecilia Cackley, East City Bookshop, Washington, DC
A tour-de-force from three-time National Book Award finalist Rita Williams-Garcia, this is the story of an antebellum plantation--and the enduring legacies of slavery upon every person who lives there.
1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family's objections, to sit for a portrait.
While Madame plots her last hurrah, stories come to light that span generations--from the big house to out in the fields--of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved.
This astonishing novel from award-winning author Rita Williams-Garcia about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork--empathetic, brutal, and entirely human.