Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Absalom's Daughters

26792275Self-educated and brown-skinned, Cassie works full time in her grandmother’s laundry in rural Mississippi. Illiterate and white, Judith falls for “colored music” and dreams of life as a big city radio star. These teenaged girls are half-sisters. And when they catch wind of their wayward father’s inheritance coming down in Virginia, they hitch their hopes to a road trip together to claim what’s rightly theirs.

In an old junk car, with a frying pan, a ham, and a few dollars hidden in a shoe, they set off through the American Deep South of the 1950s, a bewitchingly beautiful landscape as well as one bedeviled by racial strife and violence. Suzanne Feldman's Absalom’s Daughters combines the buddy movie, the coming-of-age tale, and a dash of magical realism to enthrall and move us with an unforgettable, illuminating novel.

*May Contain Spoilers*

Absalom's Daughters is the debut novel of Suzanne Feldman, containing beautiful prose that is laced with mysticism. Two girls, Cassie and Judith, discover they're half-sisters and are pushed into finding their father in order to claim an inheritance after a death in the family. They escape rural Mississippi in a junked, and stolen, car, traveling to Virginia where their father resides. With equal doses of help and prejudice, Cassie and Judith have the adventure of a lifetime, learning about the importance of the past and how it lives in the present. 

Cassie, with cinnamon colored skin, has grown up working with her mother and grandmother in the laundry business on Negro Street. She's heard the rumors that her father is a white man and knows that Judith is her sister. At first, the two girls don't exactly get along but there's something that ties them together. After she learns of the inheritance, Cassie's mother tells her to go, escape Mississippi and find something better. Cassie is an open-minded character who grows into her past as she travels. She discovers her history and learns to accept it. She's a brave girl, setting off for Virginia with only a few dollars. Cassie is cautious but friendly, with an air of naivety and hope. Though she's uncertain about what an inheritance really means to her, Cassie takes the chance that the road trip will lead her somewhere better. 

Though Cassie is the main focus of the novel, Judith plays an important role. Judith is the force that moves Cassie forward. Even though she's constantly making up stories and really only dreams of becoming a famous singer, she provides a way for Cassie to grow. Judith isn't the most likeable character at first, but she becomes more understandable as the novel progresses. Struggling with the idea that her father abandoned her and experiencing a miscarriage along the way, Judith is revealed as a strong character who doesn't let anything stop her from dreaming. 

My favorite thing about this book is the dialect. Feldman uses this tool to really bring the characters to life. I always love when an author represents a culture through speech, especially when they're successful. It pulls readers deeper into the story, immersing them in the time period and making the story more realistic. 

In the afterword, Feldman thanks William Faulkner as man of inspiration, the title of this book echoing Absalom! Absalom! The name Absalom comes from a biblical story in which Absalom, son of David, rebelled against his father and went to war. In the war he was killed by one of his father's generals. Absalom was said to have a daughter in the bible, though he did not have two. However, this novel echoes the themes of rising up against familial wishes and becoming something more. Another common theme is that the past is part of the present and Feldman demonstrates that belief through the use of mysticism and myth. She allows her characters to grow into the past as they learn to understand it, ultimately giving Cassie a new life, a life she can be proud of. 

Rating: 5/5 Cups

(Note: The information about Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom! and the biblical stories are available on Wikipedia at the following pages: Absalom! Absalom! and Absalom.)

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