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01 February 2013

Laila Ibrahim: Yellow Crocus: A Novel

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It is very difficult to encapsulate the way of life in the American South in the 25 years leading up to the Civil War in a single novel. Laila Ibrahim has done this well through the eyes of a female slave and her relationship as a wet-nurse and proxy mother to the daughter of a the white plantation owner in Virginia. It is an emotional story which is well told and covers the major features of slavery and the power and attitude to slaves by their white owners. The content does not describe the cruelty of the times in too much detail.

The book tells its story in a believable way through the long term loving relationship and understanding between Mattie the wet-nurse and her proxy daughter, Lisbeth. There are 3 major messages in this book to me (I am an Aussie so I am not that familiar to the history of the times):

1. It was a time of harsh conditions for slaves with almost callous disregard of any human feelings to slaves by their owners. Virginia law deemed them to be real estate to be bought and sold at will. Slaves could not gain their freedom unless they escaped to one of the northern "free" states.
2. Plantation owners followed a very strong social system to maintain their power through in-breeding between wealthy families. Teenage females had strict limitations on their place in the family and were expected to make strategic marriages and act as brood-mares to maintain dynasties. This is very similar to how English society and aristocracy protected their dynasties in the 19th century and beyond.
3. There would always be some social connection between slaves and their owners through house-slaves, wet-nurses and sexual domination of some female slaves. These connections form the main themes of this book.

All in all it was a very good effort to cover such a massive subject. I felt the ending was a bit rushed and predictable so I personally gave it 4.5 stars. However I rounded it up to reflect the many other 5 star reviews given to this book.


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