I am currently on a long break from reviewing and blogging, but this is a book that I couldn’t help but write about when I marked it as finished on GoodReads – what’s below isn’t really a full review, and it’s certainly not the best thing I’ve ever written, but Conjure Women shattered a very dark reading slump and helped me to reconnect with my love of reading (and learning) during a time where I don’t really know who I am anymore.
⚠️ Slavery, child birth, still-birth, whipping, racism, off-page lynching, sex, masturbation, corporal punishment, arson, self-administered / botched abortion, miscarriage, child deaths, torture, male genital mutilation, the Ku Klux Klan, hangings, cancer and other distressing themes and issues related to this time period ⚠️
YOU’RE FREE TO DECIDE YOUR FUTURE.
BUT HOW DO YOU ESCAPE THE GHOSTS OF THE PAST?
The pale-skinned, black-eyed baby is a bad omen.
Rue knows it. But, for once, despite her skill as a midwife, she doesn’t know what to do. Times have changed since her mother held the power to influence the life and death of her fellow slaves. Freedom has come. But this new world brings new dangers and when sickness sweeps across her tight-knit community, Rue finds herself the focus of suspicion.
What secrets does she keep amidst the charred remains of the Big House? Which spells has she conjured to threaten their children? And why is she so wary of the charismatic preacher man who promises to save them all?
Conjure Women is a captivating novel of belief and suspicion, friendship and betrayal, and the lengths we will go to save the ones we love.
This isn’t a book that I feel I should write a full-length review for, due to the themes and topics that Afia Atakora has explored, however I also don’t feel that I can just say nothing about it either, because it’s one hell of a story, and also a very important one. There are some really distressing scenes in this book, but I appreciated the authenticity and candidness of Atakora’s writing, as well as the very honest story she was telling. Miss May Belle and Miss Rue’s stories hauled me out of a very dark reading slump – the book was beautifully written, and the small, intricate details made it a very intimate and emotional story to read, and probably to write.
“Magic and faith were fickle. Life and living were fickle.”
From my reading notes:
Akatora has worked hard to show that those that were enslaved had this own lives, their own everyday problems and issues, their own community with their own unique culture and traditions (some of which differed between plantations, not just by race and nationality), despite them having no true freedom. Telling the story in this way makes their suffering and imprisonment much more raw and deeply harrowing. It means the events of May Belle and Rue’s lives really stay with you.
“Whatever folks believed or didn’t believe
there was no sense fuelling the wrath of things not seen.”
I also really appreciated the unpredictability, and I think that helped to remind me of how unpredictable life must have been (and still is) for those who were enslaved – especially surrounding the time of their ‘freedom’, a historical event which I think Akatora explored brilliantly. I love how the different points in time had their own unique vibe to them (for example, mysterious fantasy vs. harrowing historical fiction) as this really helped to strengthen the feeling of change as time progressed and regressed with every chapter, and how much the lives of the Black community transformed during their enslavement, and subsequent “freedomtime”. There was also something really powerful in how Atakora presented her characters, with both their good and bad sides being dutifully highlighted, and especially how their secrets were subtly revealed, often without ever being stated outright. The characters were so easy to connect to and each one was truly fascinating.
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