Cane River (Oprah's Book Club)

by Lalita Tademy

Hardcover, 2001



Follows four generations of African American women, from slavery to the early twentieth century, as they struggle for economic security and the future of their families along the Cane River in rural Louisiana.

Library's rating


(588 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member elmoelle
This book gave me not just food for thought but a banquet for thought. The first big thing my brain had to chew over was the family tree of the author tucked at the beginning of the book. Although this book is historical fiction, it is based on a significant amount of research that the author did on her own family. The thing about her family tree that really got me was to see how close the author, who resigned as a Vice-President of Sun Microsystems to take on this project, was to a generation born into slavery. Her great-grandmother was the first generation of her family that was not born into slavery. This brought a whole new dimension to my thoughts about those sociology classes I took in college that discussed the link between slavery and some of the difficulties faced by modern African-Americans.
Aside from fueling my interests in social issues, this book also provided a very emotional, multi-generational story of a fantastic family of women. Although we all know, factually, the horrors that accompanied slavery and that continued after the Civil War, it is a whole different thing to experience these horrors through the eyes of characters that you have come to care so much about.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in African-American or southern history or anyone who just loves a good sprawling family novel.
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LibraryThing member cataylor
The author fictionalizes her own family history beginning in the early 1800s when her family was enslaved in the south. It follows six generations of women through their emancipation and the "bleaching" of her family line. Excellent!
LibraryThing member LeHack
Tademy recounts the history of several generations going back to the 1700's. Slaves in the South, children and spouses sold - a very hard life. This was every bit as good as Roots. Highly recommend. Couldn't put it down and was sorry when I finished it.
LibraryThing member abcornils
The author went to a lot of trouble to research her family's history, and wrote a wonderful story based on her idea of how it might have been for the matriarchs of her family, as slaves, and as liberated black women struggling against racism. This will be a classic someday.
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
A beautifully told family history about four generations of slave women on a Louisiana plantation in the nineteenth century. Lalita Tademy takes the dry dates and pieces of paper that go into genealogy research and crafts them into a story of strong women, family and the trials of slavery and freedom. Her writing is powerful and poetic - 'She watched words float past, plump and ripe, before they burst just outside her line of vision' - but never purple, and she effortlessly recreates another time and place with evocative descriptions of Cane River in the 1800s.

It is jarring to read about the lives of these vividly drawn 'characters' in a story, coming to know and care about them, only to turn the page and find a facsimile of a bill of sale for a slave auction and find their names listed, or look into the eyes of Narcisse and Emily in a photograph after imagining them. Combining fact and fiction, or grounding a poignant slave narrative in the shameful reality of history, somehow makes more of an impact than reference books and novels. But the saddest part of this family saga is not the vicious circle of illegitimate children or the 'bleaching of the line' when Suzette, Philomene and Emily had children with white men, whether by force of choice, but that nothing really changed for them after risking their lives for a hundred years to break free of slavery and provide for their families. In 1936, an elderly Emily takes the bus into town to buy her own snuff and some peppermint candy for her grandchildren. The store owner doesn't know her, but takes her for a white woman, long the ambition of her mother Philomene and her grandmother Suzette, because she is only one-quarter black. When another customer recognises her 'colour', however, the man turns on her and rudely makes her wait, at over seventy years of age, while he serves the white customers. She 'knows her place', he tells another woman who offers to let Emily go first. Emily leaves without her snuff, and returns to the house by the river - sitting at the front of the bus. The importance of colour, and the treatment of the women and the white fathers of their children, both distressed and angered me, more, if truth be told, than their lives on the plantation.

This is how family history should be told, with heart, pride and affection.
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LibraryThing member mostlyliterary
Cane River is a wonderful novel, which I highly recommend. I learned a lot about the slave/plantation/small farmer experience of Creole Louisiana. Especially interesting are the details about the gens de couleur libre and the long line of interracial unions (both forced and chosen) among Tademy's ancestors. An important thread that runs from beginning to end in Cane River is the impact of skin color biases within the black community, and Tademy's family specifically.

San Francisco Bay Area native Lalita Tademy has a unique story to tell about her family lineage, and I'm glad she took the time to research and write this novel. She convincingly portrays strong, interesting, complex women -- starting with her great-great-great-grandmother Suzette, whose nine-year-old fictionalized character launches the novel in 1834. Lalita Tademy brings a cast of memorable characters to life, with a great literary flair.

I selected this novel for the February 2009 meeting of my library-based Mostly Literary Fiction Book Discussion Group. Book group participants described the book as a "page turner," and recounted many passages that moved them to tears.

Lalita Tademy will be visiting the Hayward Public Library for a special event on March 11, 2009, as part of our NEA-sponsored Big Read of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines -- a novel set in Cajun Louisiana in the late 1940s. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to meet Tademy and hear more details about her research and writing. I also recommend her second novel, Red River, which explores (again in fictional form) her father's ancestors, and the devastating Colfax, Louisiana, Massacre of 150 black freedmen in 1873.
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LibraryThing member erpiepho
An excellent genre of fictional family history based on truth.
LibraryThing member andersonden
The book is essentially a family history starting from the author's 5th removed great grandmother. What is slightly amazing about it is that her family is black in Louisiana so researching family records meant looking at sales invoices for her slave ancestors. There is a lot of interpretation in the writing of the history (as in all history) but the author also got some more direct information from her great aunt who wrote out a family history. It took me a little while to be fully brought into the family's world but once there it was hard to leave. Life in French speaking Louisiana during the mid to late 1800's started to fascinate me. Recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member mckait
This was a very compelling story. The characters were rich and often compelling. I did feel as if parts of the story were left untold, in some ways.

I can tell you this much, you will cry, shudder, laugh and pray with and for these characters. Often the books that make it into Oprah,s book club are slow reading, as this was, and less than uplifting. This book had its moments, but I would not describe it as an uplifting read,… (more)
LibraryThing member maiadeb
Hard to read but so very well done. Horrific, shameful, historical, truthful and our collective American memory. This is the way people should be taught the history of America and discussion should follow. The writing brings the images of abuse into sharp relief and the climate of Louisiana can be felt...compulsive read. Once started, it should not be put sown until completed.… (more)
LibraryThing member jaybee2008
the story was interesting, but the writing was not.
LibraryThing member Fluffyblue
I probably enjoyed 3/4 of this book. I got a bit bored at the end. As another reviewer has mentioned, it's really all birth, babies and death and although there was quite a bit on the struggles to become gens de coleur libre, which they eventually got. It didn't make much difference to them, the family was still treated with disdain by the 'white folks'.

I enjoyed the fact that the book was told over three generations, and it was interesting to see how things changed as time went on.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
What a great experience to come to know your ancestors as Ms. Tademy did through writing this book. One of the most poignant scenes came at the end of the book when Emily goes shopping. She's treated with respect by a stranger, but then humiliated by a neighbor. It's hard to understand how we can be so unkind to each other.
LibraryThing member pricelessreads
I loved every minute of reading this book. Lalita Tademy spent years researching her family history, and then used what she found to write a semi-fiction, semi-fact based novel about her female ancestors beginning in the 1800’s while they were still living in slavery. This is one of those rare books that tells a complete story. Each of these amazing, strong women, drew me in to the novel giving an excellent portrait of what a woman’s life in slavery would have been like as well as the Civil War, reconstruction, and the years of discrimination that followed. I was so sad to say goodbye to these characters at novel’s end that I found myself re-reading large sections of the book, unready to move on. I would recommend this story to anyone who has an interest in historical fiction, slavery, and the lives of real women. This is going on my all time favorites list.… (more)
LibraryThing member sacrain
I LOVED this book. I loved Tademy's writing style, the storyline and characters, the fact that it's based on Tademy's ancestors and that she left the corporate world to focus on and write this book. It's just so amazing to see how much America and our attitudes and laws have changed over the past 100 or so years. Amazing really.

This was a phenomenal book -- I would recommend it to anyone from a mature 8th grader on up...really a delightful and insightful read.
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LibraryThing member gregory_gwen
A novel based on the author's genealogical research about her family in 19th and 20th century Louisiana. ome were slaves, some free, some black, some white. I would love to write a novel like this about some of my ancestors. In fact, I have considered this before, but it would take a lot more research than I have done so far.… (more)
LibraryThing member mikitchenlady
Enjoyed this book. Tademy uses her own family history to create this fictionalized account of the lives of four strong women (Elizabeth, Suzette, Philomine and Emily), dating back to before the Civil War. Gives a greater understanding of what it was like to be a slave and then later a black (free but not really free) in this country. I was especially touched by the descriptions of what happens when the master dies, and how families can be torn apart based purely on the economic whims of their owners without a thought (mothers separated from babies, husbands moved out of state, with no chance of reunion).… (more)
LibraryThing member orangewords
It sounds overly simple to say that this book is beautiful, but that is precisely what it is. Though its language is not overly ornate, and its characters not always sympathetic, "Cane River" is five-hundred pages of a slowly unfolding, highly emotional saga. This book causes the reader to address ideas of race and family in new, old, and surprisingly simple ways. A quick read, but a wonderful and very powerful book.… (more)
LibraryThing member LTFL_JMLS
A novel based on the author's genealogical research about her family in 19th and 20th century Louisiana. ome were slaves, some free, some black, some white. I would love to write a novel like this about some of my ancestors. In fact, I have considered this before, but it would take a lot more research than I have done so far.… (more)
LibraryThing member rachiemoh
Great read - the characters were real, wonderful story - didn't want this one to end - would love to hear more of the family tree as it branches on down to Lalita. :-)
LibraryThing member Zumbanista
An extraordinary amount of painstaking research went into this work of fiction based on the author's family history covering 4 generations living in rural Louisiana.

As often happens in these multi generational epics, much time is spent on setting up the story and the introductory characters. The reader has a better knowledge and understanding of their lives than the later characters which are not drawn in such detail or given as much room for their stories to unfold.

Nevertheless, I found the novel riveting and meticulously written. I enjoyed learning about the role of the Creoles and freedmen who lived side-by-side with the white French masters, the slaves and their mixed race children.

Some readers may find this book slow going but as I have an interest in the era I enjoyed it. I thoroughly enjoyed the appended photos of the family members.

The author has done a tremendous job of bringing her ancestors to life and in retelling their stories. I look forward to reading more of her work.
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LibraryThing member AnglersRest
This is the incrediable story of three generations of the author's ancestry. Through their years as slaves, to their freedom. Their loves and dispair, grief and bewilderment. The novel does not portray the many horrors that slaves suffered at the hands of their "owners". Wonderfully and lovingly the author has attempted to peice together their lives, using official documentation and living memory… (more)
LibraryThing member AnnikaBirgitta
Excellent book. Was moved by this story.. Well worth reading.
LibraryThing member Rosenectur
This being an Oprah book club book I didn’t have much hope for it at first. But it came highly rated from my Aunt Patricia. I was pleasantly surprised by the book. It’s about several generations of women as slaves to the same family in Louisiana, and into their emancipation and learning to make it in the world on their own. It was really well written, and although these “chick” books aren’t normally my thing I ended up liking it. Part of why I think I liked it was that it had been thoroughly researched, was based on the real lives of the authors ancestors, and had a lot of historical data in it.… (more)
LibraryThing member pidgeon92
Loved this book. A beautifully written historical memoir.


Warner Books (2001), Edition: 2nd, 418 pages

Original publication date





0446530522 / 9780446530521


Original language

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