by Lalita Tademy
started 9/7/07 finished 9/22/07
A few years ago, I swore off books & movies about slavery and the holocaust. They just make me too angry. And as a retail employee I kinda stay in a mild state of anger, so I don’t need more ammunition. But then I read Lalita Tademy’s Cane River. Tademy quit her corporate career as a Vice President at Sun Microsystems to become a writer and in the tradition of “writing what you know”, she set out to tell the story of her ancestors on her mother’s side of the family. She chose to tell this story in the form of a novel (and admitted it, unlike Alex Haley). It was well written and compelling and later Oprah picked it for her book club.
This time around Tademy is telling the story of her father’s side of the family. Red River is told around a real-life historical event that took place in 1873 in Colfax, Louisiana. A recent election resulted in a change of administration in Colfax, giving the newly freed slaves hope that they could continue to create better lives for themselves. The White community of the area had plans to make sure that never happened. What ensued was referred to by the Whites as a “riot” and the Blacks as a “massacre”. Red River uses this event to begin telling the history of the Tademy family and follows it for the next 70 years.
I consider myself somewhat of a student of African-American history and love that I got to learn so much from this book. It isn’t often that happens when reading fiction. Its also interesting that I was reading about the events in Colfax, Louisiana while listening to the events in Jena, Louisiana.
One of the most touching parts of the book was finding out that the name “Tademy” is actually an Americanized version of the name that one of their ancestors brought with them from Africa. Their original name is Ta-ta-mee and they originated from the Egypt and the Nile River Delta. The men from this branch of this family held on this memory during slavery and made sure that they passed it on their heirs. Near the end of the book after hearing it again I started to cry and thought what a blessing it is to know what your “real” name is because so many of us don’t.
Lalita Tademy is featured in the October issue of O, Magazine in an article on a Black female writer’s group.