Josephus and Bessel live on neighboring farmhouses in the small, wealthy township of Yoville, New York. Josephus is a recently manumitted freeman. He decides to remain on the farm of his former slavers until he has saved enough money to relocate to his dream town: New Orleans. Josephus and Bessel meet every night on the porch of Josephus' farm. They discuss their aspirations,struggles and plans as newly emancipated former slaves. Bessel flirts with Josephus and is clearly interested in him. However, she is also being courted by Befoe, a wealthy colored man of free lineage.
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Bessel chooses Befoe; his money, stability, and free lineage prove the safety and comfort she wants for herself and her children. Befoe moves in with Bessel. They conceive a daughter named Ruth. Josephus believes himself to be Ruth's father. Bessel admits she doesn't know who Ruth's father is. Ruth takes a liking to Josephus. They develop a connection despite Bessel's insistence that Ruth not get to attached to the man.
Josephus is lonely after Bessel marries. Mrs. Krumpt, the former mistress of the plantation, is also lonely. Recently abandoned by her husband, She spends many of her days in drunken stupor or bitter, aggressive rage. To relieve her anxiety and loneliness, Mrs. Krumpt coerces Josephus into having sex with her, threatening the life of Bessel and Ruth should he refuse. She gives birth to a girl named YinYang Ms. Krumpt never tells YinYang who her father is. She and her mother have a tumultuous relationship; Mrs. Krumpt is ashamed of YinYang's mixed-race features. YinYang learns from other former slaves on the plantation that Josephus is her father.
One night, while digging near the back of the farm, Josephus discovers a collection of gold coins buried shallowly behind the chicken coup. He steals the coins, relocating them to a secluded wooded area several miles from the farm, where he buries them deeply. He dreams of using the coins to move to New Orleans and begin a life for himself as a free man. First he wants to give his daughter a number of coins to ensure that she never has to depend on anyone again. Josephus gives YinYang 10 coins. He dies shortly thereafter, disappointed that he never made it off the plantation of his birth, but satisfied that he's provided security for his daughter.
YinYang moves to New Orleans. She makes a name for herself as a well-reputed working girl, spending time with politicians, priests, and other men of influence in exchange for money and luxurious gifts. YinYang maintains and extravagant lifestyle, but is also generous with her resources. She gives money to the old woman who initially took her in when she arrived in New Orleans, and looks after orphaned children in the neighborhood.
Ruth remains in Yoville. She marries a preacher and has a daughter named Hosanna. Ruth falls ill to postpartum tremors, malnutrition, and night sweats. She requires constant medical attention and care. Her needs stretch the family's financial resources. Ruth's father abandons his family on evening. He leaves a note which simply reads: "I'm sorry."
One afternoon, by sheer accident Ruth stumbles upon the gold her father buried. She hopes to use the money for her medical care and Hosanna's care. Yet despite all medical efforts, Ruth's condition worsens.
Meanwhile, after falling out with one of her patrons, YinYang decides to return to Yoville. She hopes to repair her relationship with her mother, and to learn more about her father's people. When she returns, she meets Ruth. They develop a friendship. . When the two speak of their respective memories of Josephus, they piece together the truth: that he's the father of them both. Ruth informs YinYang as to the location of Josephus' buried gold. Days later, Ruth dies in her sleep. Her daughter, Hosanna, is left motherless. YinYang decides the parent the girl herself. She tells her all about Ruth, her own life, and the life of her father. She gives the girl two golden coins and tells her to use it carefully.
Best part of story, including ending:
The cast of characters is morally complex. Josephus wants to provide for his daughter, and is victimized and manipulated by Mrs. Krumpt's violent threats, yet at the same time he's also somewhat passive and morally ambiguous; with his dreams of materialistic wealth and his clandestine hoarding of the golden coins. The complex and ambiguous nature of the the characters makes for an interesting and dynamic read.
Best scene in story:
Bessel and Joesphus share a small intimate moment on the porch one night. She tells him that she's planning to marry Befoe. Then she leans close to his ear and explains to him why she's always loved his voice, even though it's high "like a songbirds" and not at all masculine. She loves his voice because it's real. It's authentic, and he doesn't try to change it for anyone. It is a sweet moment and we can see that although Bessel chooses to marry someone else, she and Josephus will continue to share a special bond.
Opinion about the main character:
YinYang is morally complex and ambiguous, very much like her father Josephus. The lifestyle she establishes is a weird mix of generosity and excessive materialism. YinYang is entertaining because you never quite know what to expect of her.