Lynn Austin is at the top of my favorite authors! I couldn’t wait to read this book!
The Civil War is over and the lives of the wealthy northerners and their slaves are changed forever. Those from the North don’t want to accept it and the slaves don’t know how to accept it.
The Weatherly family returns to what is left of their once grand home in Virginia. Eugenia, the matriarch of the family and widowed by the war, plans to continue life as before. She purposes, through sheer strength and determination, to rebuild the life they once had. She has lost one son in the war and looks to her surviving son to return and take his father’s place. Daniel comes home angry and shattered by his experiences in the war. He too cannot accept the defeat and seeks revenge on anyone associated with that loss. He could care less about leading the family.
Her 16 year old daughter, Olivia, is spoiled and selfish and is more than happy to comply with her mother’s plans. Twenty-two year old Josephine realizes that their focus must be on surviving the reality of their life now, not reconstructing the past. Although practical in her outlook, she is angry with God for not rewarding her “goodness” and answering her prayers during the war. She has turned away from Him.
The only slaves that remain on their plantation are Lizze and Otis and their 3 children. They have no clue how to handle their new found freedom and realize they have no place to go. For the first time, Josephine begins to see them as flesh and blood people with feelings and attempts to treat them as equals. This only enrages her mother more.
Josephine and her family face hardships they have never experienced: lack of food, clothing, and money. She begins to understand that this a small taste of the lives their slaves have always lived. The only difference in Lizze and Otis’s life is that they know their children will never be sold or face mistreatment as they did.
I was astonished at this historical novel. Ms. Austin was a genius not only in how she presented the historical facts about the Post Civil War era, but also in capturing the personal details and emotions that so many different groups of people faced in its aftermath. I never dreamed of what these people actually dealt with.
In many ways the wealthy families coming back were almost as poor as the slaves, but their situations were made worse because they had no skills or knowledge to care for their daily needs and homes. A culture shock confronted them as they were stripped of their money and lavish, snobbish lifestyles. They were broken people with only their self-righteous pride left.
The soldiers left as strong, courageous young men only to return shattered emotionally, mentally and some physically. Handicapped individuals then did not have all the medical help and devices to make life easier. Many wished they had died rather than live as a cripple. Some carried the guilt of being alive because their friends died.
Then there were the slaves who finally had freedom but had no means or knowledge to embrace it. Their fear of their master’s abuse was replaced with fear being killed by angry ex-slave owners. If they went away, they had no means to support themselves nor any place to go. In staying they are treated with the same disrespect and left with the workload of a household of slaves. This was a very confusing time for them too.
Also there were the southerners who fought for the slave’s freedom and wanted to help them in making a new life. They found themselves in danger and hated by the bitter white men of the north for whom they blamed for their losses. On the other hand the slaves feared trusting them because they were white.
As if If all this wasn’t remarkable enough, Ms. Austin includes one more very important aspect. In a crisis God is always at work whether we realize it or not. We are either drawn closer to Him or turn away. Not only was I a part of the character’s thoughts and emotions, but she also enabled me to experience their spiritual journey in such a tumultuous time.
I will never look at this era the same again. She brought history and the characters alive! This book is a masterpiece you WILL want to read!
I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255