Monday, September 9, 2013

#BookReview: WHAT THE RIVER WASHED AWAY by Muriel Macleod

The first thing everyone notices about What the River Washed Away is the cover.  I know when I saw it on the shelf at BEA, my first thought was, "Why are they re-issuing The Darkest Child?"  The advance copy of the book noted that this was not the final cover, so I thought, well then they'll change it, because if I noticed it, others will.  And you all did.  I had at least five people ask me on Goodreads if it wasn't the same cover as Delores Phillips' acclaimed novel.  Apparently, the publisher decided to stick with the cover.  It has been almost 10 years since The Darkest Child was published, but they must not know that readers have minds like elephants.  Now that we've cleared that up, let's jump into the book.

It's 1908 and eight year old Arletta lives in the backwoods of Louisiana with her Mambo, the area's voodoo queen.  With knowledge imparted on her by her own mother and generations of Mambos going back to Haiti, Mambo is drunk with power.  She's so drunk with power that she leaves Arletta alone in the cabin for hours while she's out doing God only knows what.  You see, while Mambo uses her power for good, in most instances, she also uses the power in her hips, so there's no shortage of men streaming in and out of her and Arletta's lives.  One of those men has no use for Mambo once he spots Arletta, but Mambo is too busy to notice and admonishes Arletta to keep her mouth closed, lest she become the next victim of lynching.

Years later, Arletta has moved from that cabin, forced out by Mambo and her new man, Quinn.  Looking for an education and a better life, Arletta and her best friend move in with Ms.............., an English woman who has no problem with black boarders, as long as they're Christians.  Arletta will attend however many church services she has to if it means getting her hands on Ms.            books.  Settled in and enjoying her job at the NAACP, Arletta's world is thrown into turmoil when another girl is found, hurt the same way those men hurt Arletta so many years ago.  With Nellie and Mambo's help, Arletta is going to make sure what happened to her never happens to anyone else.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book.  A blurb on the back says it's based on a true story.  The problem with that is, you never know if everything is true or if just parts of it are true and the author built around it or what.  I've decided for myself what parts I choose to believe are true.  I do question whether or not a white woman, from England or otherwise, would be allowed to take in Negro boarders with little to no consequences in early twentieth century Louisiana.

Overall, I really liked the book, but was just a bit confused about the dialect Macleod chose to have Arletta use.  While she spoke perfectly passable English living in the backwoods, as a child that had been taught to read and write by her grandfather, her dialect in the city reverted to that of an uneducated person at times.  I'm not sure if the author forgot mid-story what her character was capable of, but it was distracting to go from one dialect to another without warning.  There was a big twist in the book that I was not expecting at all.  Actually, there were a few.  I like that the author didn't seem to follow a set script with the story lines.  Add this one to your must read list.

Published: July 2013
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

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