Did you remember to set your clocks back an hour this morning? In the theme of setting the clocks back, I've decided to pick up a couple of well-received historical novels to get me in the mood.
In "The Wedding Gift" by Marlen Suyapa Bodden, it is 1852 in Alabama. Theodora Allen is the wife of a successful plantation owner. She and her husband own hundreds of slaves and do their best to treat them fairly — in accordance with the beliefs of the times.
Theodora's husband engages in a long-term relationship with one of the house slaves, who gives birth to a daughter at around the same time as Theodora produces her own daughter, Clarissa. The two girls grow up together, and Sarah, the slave's child, stays close to her friend at all times, even during her lessons. As a result, Sarah becomes well educated for a young servant during those times and learns many things of which her peers are unaware.
Eventually, the girls become young women, and when Clarissa is to be married, plans are made to send Sarah along with her to the new estate of her betrothed as her wedding gift. Life is more difficult in this unfamiliar place, and Sarah and Clarissa both deteriorate under the conditions. Clarissa is dissatisfied with her new life, and Sarah plots an escape from slavery.
The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Sarah and Theodora, and the reader can't help but note the parallels in their stories. Sarah is a slave with legal restrictions on her actions. But in many ways, Theodora was also treated as a piece of property by her husband, the plantation owner. She was monitored at all times, was beaten if she said or did something which he found unbecoming to a woman of her standing. She was mentally and emotionally trapped in her circumstances.
As the plot developed, it was difficult to stop thinking about each of their predicaments. Would either one truly escape? With intelligence and compassion, each woman brings us to a twisted ending that I found truly unexpected.
Other books along these lines that you may enjoy include "Someone Knows My Name" by Lawrence Hill and "Island Beneath the Sea" by Isabel Allende.
I also wanted to share the new title by one of my favorite historical fiction authors: "Fallen Women" by Sandra Dallas.
Dallas has the amazing ability to transport her readers to not only a different time and place, but to a new level of thinking and caring. The characters are so acutely drawn that I would swear I had known them personally and enjoyed doing so.
This time, we are in 1885. Beret Osmundsen is living in New York City and manages a mission for the poor. Her younger sister Lillie had been living with her up until a year ago, when Beret made the heartbreaking decision to send her to live with their aunt and uncle in Denver. After a year of estrangement, Beret finds out that Lillie has died and makes arrangements to travel to Denver to get answers to her many questions about the circumstances surrounding the death.
Lillie had become a prostitute and was murdered while living in a brothel. Officer Mick McCauley has been assigned to the case and finds that Beret is an asset to his investigation. With an array of possible suspects, I had no idea who did it, but was highly entertained with the prospects.
The story took me from the depths and depravity of Wild West prostitution to the fanciful parties and fashion of Denver high society.
I loved watching Beret and Mick work together, and I can definitely see the possibility of a sequel if Dallas cares to write one. If this is your first Dallas novel, don't hesitate to pick up another one: They're all entertaining!
Use this "extra hour" today to read a good book from your local public library.
Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.