Cane River

By Lalita Tademy

Warner Books (2001)

Have you ever found a photograph of an ancestor and wondered what stories she could tell?  Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River, became intrigued with the untapped mystery of her beautiful great-grandmother Emily Fredieu, a light-skinned slave born in 1861. Living in central Louisiana, Emily’s beauty won her the affection of a white Frenchman for more than 30 years.

Tademy’s quest to learn more about her great-grandmother resulted in years of research, genealogy and reading of family letters. She also visited Louisiana’s Cajun country, far from Silicon Valley where she was a vice president of a Fortune 500 company. Eventually she quit her career to complete her book, which was featured on Oprah’s Book Club and became a New York Times Bestseller.

With more than 500 pages, the book can appear intimidating until you begin to read. Immediately you are drawn back in time to the secluded backcountry of Louisiana to witness the lives of several generations of Tademy’s ancestors.  Like her bloodline, the story weaves together the intriguing worlds of the slaves, the French, the indigenous whites and free people of color. The result is a stunning mix of factual history, family story and fascinating culture.

The characters in this book became my companions this summer as my husband and I sailed to Maine.  If you are in search of a good read this winter, I invite you to travel to the land of Cane River.

~ Leslie Payne