By: Laila Ibrahim
Published: December 17, 2010
Mattie was never truly mine. That knowledge must have filled me as quickly and surely as the milk from her breasts. Although my family ‘owned’ her, although she occupied the center of my universe, her deepest affections lay elsewhere. So along with the comfort of her came the fear that I would lose her some day. This is our story...
So begins Lisbeth Wainwright’s compelling tale of coming-of-age in antebellum Virginia. Born to white plantation owners but raised by her enslaved black wet nurse, Mattie, Lisbeth’s childhood unfolds on the line between two very different worlds. Growing up under the tender care of Mattie, Lisbeth adopts her surrogate mother’s deep-seated faith in God, her love of music and black-eyed peas, and the tradition of hunting for yellow crocuses in the early days of spring. In time, Lisbeth realizes she has freedoms and opportunities that Mattie does not have, though she’s confined by the societal expectations placed on women born to privilege. As Lisbeth grows up, she struggles to reconcile her love for her caregiver with her parents’ expectations, a task made all the more difficult as she becomes increasingly aware of the ugly realities of the American slavery system. When Lisbeth bears witness to a shockingly brutal act, the final vestiges of her naiveté crumble around her. Lisbeth realizes she must make a choice, one that will require every ounce of the courage she learned from her beloved Mattie. This compelling historical novel is a richly evocative tale of love, loss, and redemption set during one of the most sinister chapters of American history.
After reading and loving books like THE HELP and WENCH, when I saw this as a free Kindle purchase, I figured I had nothing to lose. It is currently $3.99 for Kindle and $9.95 for paperback HERE and I think you should stop what you are doing and purchase it now!
I have had several friends who read it and told me I needed to read it now, but it took a day at the hospital with my mom for me to get it started. I read it nearly straight through and fell in love with Mattie, the wet nurse and Lisbeth the white girl cared for by Mattie. As a mom, my heart ached with Mattie as she "kissed Samuel (her 3 month old son) tenderly on his round cheek and poured I love you into his tiny ear." I couldn't fathom leaving behind your own baby to take care of a stranger's baby, not knowing if you would be back in months or years. Then watching from the window of the big plantation house to get a glimpse of your son knowing that while you are sleeping in a bed, your son is on a hard pallet. This type of living that was commonplace in America is just mind boggling to me.
I appreciated how the author told us the story of Mattie and Lisbeth from both sides and let us explore the character's personalities. Ibrahim tells a wonderful story with such description that I could picture the plantation, the people, and the situations that evolved. I am still in awe of how blacks were treated during the 1800's through the 1960's. Anytime I read a story from those eras, I end up feeling so ashamed even though I wasn't even born. The line between blacks and whites was so harsh and completely different it is almost unimaginable to me.
I love finding out how the title of the book works its way into the story and I think the author chose well with this one. The author brings us to the yellow crocus early on in the story and then it finds its way to come around in the end. What a beautiful way to bring this novel full-circle.
Because this was set around wealthy plantation owners, I also enjoyed the story of their culture and lives. The white families lived such a strict, rule infested way of life, that I can only imagine I would have felt claustrophobic. Lisbeth's thoughts and feelings were so different from those she lived with, that I wondered if I would have been strong enough to stand up for my beliefs like Lisbeth did.
This would be an excellent choice for book clubs as the setting alone provides for a wealth of topics. If you are a lover of historical fiction, you won't be disappointed.
Laila Ibrahim was the founder of the Woolsey Children's School and is a birth doula. She currently works as the Director of Children and Family Ministries at the First Unitarian Church in Oakland. YELLOW CROCUS is her first novel and I am hoping there will be more. For more about her, visit http://www.lailaibrahim.com/.