After a glimpse into her future as a leader of her people, this family saga opens with the childhood of the great Obeah, Meme Abeje, who lives to see the official end of slavery in her homeland of Martinque, and her niece Hetty’s migration to Canada, where she becomes an abolitionist with husband Dax Rougeaux. After a quick (and confusing) foray into the future of the Rougeaux family in the mid-1940s, Hetty’s granddaughter Eleanor brings the story full circle, when she visits Martinique to honor her Obeah great-great aunt at the end of the 19th century.
Jaeckel explores the far-reaching tentacles of slavery affecting the progeny of a slave under a softer yoke of oppression: blame placed on a woman raped, children given away in their best interest, and lack of freedom as free blacks. With a strong sense of family, the Rougeaux are tested with secrets against social mores and pass, as sexual orientation is accepted, as a child is accepted, as his mother is accepted. All are loved, a testament to family ties and sense of self that goes back to Abeje’s mother Iya, who kept her children’s African names even as French masters christened them with western ones that meant nothing to her. Abeje and Eleanor’s stories bookend the novel and stand out from the others in their similarities, a free black just as enslaved by society as her ancestor.
I was fortunate to receive this wonderful book through a Goodreads giveaway.