Lifee and Mordecai struggle to create a life together under ante-bellum slavery in the Civil War era. Subaiwu and Kola are West African cattle herders. The two young boys live in a flourishing village on the coastal banks of the Gulf of Guinea. When European slavers arrive in their village, the two boys and their cattle are captured and boarded upon a slave ship. Their friendship and their willpower are tested as they experience abuse, humiliation, and mistreatment on board. Subaiwu tries to jump ship and is forcibly rescued. Later, he tries to kill himself by refusing to eat. He is tied down and force fed. Kola suffers from illness and dehydration. The boys survive the long passage across the Atlantic, and the equally difficult trip from the Georgia coast to Texas. In Texas, the two are sold to off to different plantations.
Click here to see the rest of this review
They arrive to their respective plantations fatigued, confused, guarded; but yet unbroken. Each young man finds love, marries, and produces offspring. Each man keeps alive the memory of his friendship with the other, and even unto death, the two aspire to reunite -- if not in this world, then the next.
200 years later, Lifee and Mordecai are forced by their mistress Miz Morella to marry and have children. Lifee delivers her first boy on summer evening. She notices the breeze of the wind against her hair and remarks on how beautiful it is to bring forth new life in the wake of the wind.
Despite the forced nature of their union, the two develop a strong bond of affection and romantic love. They feel as though they have a special connection; it's as if they were fated to be together. The two don't know it, but each of them is a direct descendent of one of the earliest groups of native kidnapped Africans. Lifee is a descendant of Kola's; Mordecai is a descendent of Suwaibu's.
The Civil War ends. Lifee and Modecai hear about the promise of emancipation, but they don't believe their owner will ever grant them freedom. Their attachment to each other increases their commitment to be free and to raise their children free. The two plot a runaway, but their efforts are thwarted when an enslaved man from a different plantation tells his owner of the plot. They start to plan a second attempt, this time recruiting other slaves on their own plantation as well as a few on plantations nearby. As they prepare to escape, they hear word that Union troops are coming to occupy the state.
Two days later, union troops are stationed in Texas and their owners grant them manumission. Lifee and Mordecai move with their two young children out to Georgia. They work as sharecroppers on a small farm. They start to experience a bit of stability: Lifee teachers her boy how to read; Mordecai works a plot of land reserved for feeding his family. After a few years of relative peace, a violent anti-Reconstruction movement takes hold in Georgia. One night, a mob of angry confederate plantation owners go out to intimidate and terrorize local black farmers. Lifee's young son is tragically killed in the crossfire.
Lifee and Mordecai move yet again, this time settling on an abandoned farm. They grieve the loss of their son. Their relationship is never quite the same again. They have trouble being physically intimate with one another. They start to grow apart, each of them wrapped up in their own grieving process. Lifee teachers her surviving daughter how to read. She recalls how earlier she taught her son to read, in the hopes that he might have a better life than she did. Now, as she equips her daughter with these same skills, Lifee hopes that her daughter grows old enough to see the world become a a little less violent, and a little more loving.
Best part of story, including ending:
The intergenerational connection between Subaiwu and Kola on the one hand, and Mordecai and LIfee on the other, is compelling. We see the struggles and triumphs of the first pair reflected in the struggles and triumphs of the second. This adds a dimension of hope and joyful resolution to the story: although Lifee and Mordecai face much difficulty and heartbreak, they themselves represent Subaiwu and Kola's greatest triumphs. They are in essence, a continuation and a reuniting of the friendship shared between Subaiwu and Kola.
Best scene in story:
Lifee becomes increasingly bold in asserting herself against the plantaion mistress. When Miz Morella asks her how she plans on surviving after emancipation, without the support of her master and mistress, Lifee replies that they will survive as they always have. She points out that the real question is: how will Morella and other plantation owners will survive without the free labor provided them by the system of slavery? This dialogue demonstrates the changing dynamics of power between master and slave as word of imminent emancipation spreads.
Opinion about the main character:
Lifee is quite bold, assertive, and downright audacious. Given her station in life, she exhibits an assertiveness that at times seems to border on recklessness. Her character really makes us think about the kinds of choices that enslaved people would have had to make an a daily, hourly, almost continual basis. Lifee shows us some of the real difficulties of trying to balance one's dignity and human agency with slavery's constant threats to one's safety and survival.