Conjure Women, Afia Atakora’s debut, tells the story of mother and daughter, separated by a war that redefined our nation but more significantly to those who lived it, redefined their communities, their families, and their identities.
For Miss May Belle, her role as the hoodoo healer of her pre-Civil War community is one that is respected by all, regardless of color or class. While she’s mostly called on in the middle of the night to help women with birthing – men and women, black and white – come to her to cure what ails them and curse what haunts them.
She teaches Rue, her daughter and only child, her mystical and magical ways, doing her best to prepare Rue for the responsibility that comes with being the local medicine woman. But Rue lives in post-Civil Wartime, where her kind are free, but not quite, and many are trying to leave behind the customs and beliefs that make them different.
When a traveling preacher comes around, the definition of faith is tested. Why is being submerged in water more trusted than a talisman around the neck? In Conjure Women, these two paradigms intersect with an unusual child born under auspicious signs, and Rue finds herself as much an outcast as her childhood friend, the awkward red-headed daughter of the local plantation owner.
Told in the alternating voices of mother and daughter from their unique timeframes just a few decades apart, Conjure Women offers truth about the lines that can be blurred about who is family, what is reality and how powerful the narratives we believe can influence it all.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rue’s story, seasoned with her mother’s tales. She’s a heroine worth cheering for in a world that is changing around her and while she does her best to navigate friendships and love – in every possible complexity.
Conjure Women became available on March 17. It will appeal to a wide audience of readers including those who favor historical fiction, fiction about the South and the Civil War, stories about historical race relations as well as family sagas. Book clubs will select well-layered story for its exploration of human relationships and the complexity blood and race provide them.
I was provided an advanced reader copy of Conjure Women by Penguin Random House.
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