Title: The Personal History of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber
Publisher: Penguin (July 26, 2011)
Genre: historical fiction
My comments: The novel helps to fill in the some of the gaps in our knowledge of African American history. It's well written with a cast of realistic, well developed characters whose story shows the harsh life of western homesteaders in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Rachel, daughter of a Louisiana cane farmer who was a former slave, meets Isaac DuPree in Chicago and plans a marriage of convenience that does not suit Isaac's mother. As a single man and single woman, the two young people can each claim 160 acres of land in South Dakota according to the Homestead Act of 1862; together as man and wife, they can combine their share to 320 acres, more than enough for a good farm. Isaac's mother complains that Rachel has no social background and is darker complexioned than Isaac and therefore beneath him.
The couple nevertheless marry and have several children in South Dakota, where their life is more than harsh. The book opens with an example of the deprivation and sacrifices the family endures living in south Dakota as homesteaders. There is a severe drought, the cattle are dying off, and Isaac compels their 6-year-old daughter Liz to allow herself to be lowered into the bottom of a deep dark well to fetch water. The girl is frightened and reluctant but does go down; she says later there was a snake down in the bottom of the well that terrified her.
The novel follows the couple from the time they meet, to their life in the Badlands, through the death of at least one child there, and into their children's growing into near adulthood. Rachel tries to protect her children, especially the oldest girl, Mary, whom Isaac wants married off to an older but wealthier man for convenience's sake.
Historical buffs will enjoy this book and all readers will benefit from reading this story of grit and determination in early America.
Book description: Reminiscent of The Color Purple as well as the frontier novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree opens a window on the little-known history of African American homesteaders and gives voice to an extraordinary heroine who embodies the spirit that built America. (Amazon)
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I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.