New Southern tale sparks with magic and secrets

“If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves?” ― Mary Astell

Secrets settle like dust to ground, coating everything in a fine film to the point that we don’t always notice them anymore, until we notice the marks they leave behind. Our latest read transports readers to a plantation before, during and after the Civil War.

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Afia Atakora’s debut novel “Conjure Women” is a story of magic and healing, of loss and suffering and a quilt of secrets that rests on the shoulders of a Southern plantation.

The story begins after the Civil War with Rue delivering a baby, a strange baby that reminds her of her past sins and who behaves in a strange manner. From the birth of this odd little infant, the story jumps back and forth through time to Rue’s childhood in slavery, to the events of the war and to the post-Civil War freedom. The novel explores Rue’s connections to her mother, Miss May Belle, the plantation’s healer and midwife as well as Rue’s complicated relationship with her childhood companion and mistress, Varina.

Atakora’s story is woven in secrets, the secrets about the Charles family plantation, the not so well kept secrets about what the masters did to their slaves, the secret magic of women and the secrets kept in the name of protection.

“Conjure Women” captivates with its musical prose and lush descriptions of a Southern plantation. Atakora’s story transports readers through time effortlessly in this heart achingly beautiful tale of a community bound not only by slavery, but by the gossamer threads tying Miss May Bell, Rue and Varina together.

From the book jacket…

Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.

If you enjoy…

For readers who found themselves captivated by the secrets and magic in “Conjure Women,” consider reading Ta-Nihisi Coates’ “The Water Dancer.” Coates’ novel tells the story of a slave named Hiram as he flees bondage only to involve himself in the Underground Railroad to use his gifts to help other slaves.