Nov 14, 2011

Book Review: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber

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)

Author Ann Weisgarber was born and raised in Kettering, Ohio. She was a social worker before earning a master’s degree in sociology at the University of Houston and becoming a teacher. She divides her time between Sugar Land and Galveston, Texas. Visit the author at her website, Ann Weisgarber

For a complete schedule of reviews, visit TLC's Book Tour Stops.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.


  1. I am starting this one today, and am so excited about it! It seems like it's going to be a spectacular read for me, and I am glad to hear that you liked it too. I will have to try to share my thoughts with you when I am finished. Nice review today!

  2. I have heard such good things about this book, so I am definitely looking forward to reading it.

  3. This sounds wonderful and intriguing. I couldn't imagine going out there and starting a new life!

  4. I just posted my review of this one. I don't read a lot Historical Fiction but I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was such a hard life. Only a certain type of person could survive such a place. Visually, I could see that landscape. Would make a great movie.

  5. Harvee, thank you for reading Rachel DuPree and for the review. I'm pleased that readers who don't typically read historical fiction are willing to give the book a chance.

    During the writing process, I didn't see it as historical. I simply saw it as a story about two people searching for a sense of home. It wasn't until after publication that someone told me the book was historical fiction. The author was the last to know!

  6. I enjoy books that don't gloss over the hardships people faced when living out West - it definitely wasn't all pleasant and easy, that's for sure!

    This book sounds like an amazing read and I have it high on my TBR list. Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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