‘Yellow Crocus’ by Laila Ibrahim

From the blurb:

Moments after Lisbeth is born, she’s taken from her mother and handed over to an enslaved wet nurse, Mattie, a young mother separated from her own infant son in order to care for her tiny charge.  Thus begins an intense relationship that will shape both of their lives for decades to come.  Though Lisbeth leads a life of privilege, she finds nothing but loneliness in the company of her overwhelmed mother and her distant, slave-owning father.  As she grows older, Mattie becomes more like family to Lisbeth than her own kin, and the girls’ visits to the slaves’ quarters – and the lively and loving community she finds there – bring the two closer together than ever.  But can two women in such disparate circumstances form a bond like theirs without consequence?  This deeply moving tale of unlikely love traces the journey or these very different women as each searches for freedom and dignity.

Published by Lake Union Publishing – 19th August 2014

At the heart of this story is the relationship between Mattie, a black slave, and Lisbeth, a white baby whom Mattie nurses.  You might think this an unlikely friendship to blossom, especially considering the pre-Civil war Southern setting.  But nonetheless Ibrahim presents a friendship that is all about difference and helps to highlight the plight of slaves in the South at this time.  Mattie comes from a family who have owned slaves for generations, and will do anything they can to hold on to these ‘traditions’ that have allowed their own lives to flourish while others live in manacles.  But it’s precisely Mattie’s relationship with her wet nurse, Mattie, that allows her to grow up with eyes wide open to the injustices of Mattie’s world.

What this novel did was also open the reader’s eyes to this time of oppression and injustice.  We learn about the history of these events in school, but it is not until we witness them through a well-written character’s eyes that we realise the shockingly disgusting events for ourselves.

But that’s partly where this novel fell down for me.  I wanted to know more about these injustices.  I wanted to see more of the horror of these people’s lives.  Not for kicks, but to be forces to confront this part of history.  And although we got to see some of this horror, Ibrahim didn’t go far enough for me.  It was all too domestic, too surface level at times.  And with the novel being focused on Lisbeth and Mattie’s relationship I understand why, but opportunities may have been missed here.

I also think the book could have done with a bit more editing.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no expert on the writing process, but I feel that sometimes Ibrahim made it too easy for the reader.  We were told things, we weren’t made to infer them.  The descriptions could have been more detailed and suggestive to evoke the feelings and realities of particular situations that Ibrahim was writing about.

That aside, I do think this is an important read, especially if you want to know more about this part of history.  I felt like we got to know the characters well, and I liked the way the novel came almost full circle.  It also has some great commentary on female roles in society at this time, black or white.

If my review intrigued you and you want to pick up a copy of this book for yourself, you can do so here.  If you use my link I’ll receive a small commission – thank you in advance if you do!

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