Yellow Crocus – by Laila Ibrahim – independent book review – Historical Fiction (U.S.)

For a first novel, Yellow Crocus is quite an accomplishment! Awarded four stars on Goodreads.

yellow_crocusThis historical novel tells the story of two women – Mattie and Lisbeth. When we first meet them Mattie is an enslaved woman working the fields on a wealthy Virginia plantation, the new mother of an infant son. Lisbeth, the daughter of the plantation owner, has just been born. Mattie is forced to leave her own son in the care of others so that she can become wet nurse and constant companion to the newborn Lisbeth.

Ibrahim weaves together the lives of these women over the next 20+ years, telling a story about love that challenges the social norms of the Old South. Despite expectations that they maintain solid distance, these two form a deep and lasting emotional bond.  And watching how others view this bond is how the author constructs a compelling story of the lives of both masters and slaves.

I can’t remember reading another novel that so successfully and emotionally reveals the restrictive and unjust lives of enslaved humans— the relentless difficulty of their waking reality, the whimsical brutality they face with no notice, and the sacrifices they make on a daily basis just to survive their half-lives.

Just as compelling is the portrait of slave owners — their lives of indulgence, their social rules and expectations, the limited options for women, and, perhaps most importantly, the stories these rich, white people tell themselves to justify the economic institution of slavery — a truly shameful episode in American history.

It’s not a perfect book. There are passages where the author tries to “catch us up” on the political developments that ultimately lead to the American Civil War — by putting lengthy, awkward monologues in the mouths of white men, which turn out to NOT be believable dinner conversation. But overall, it’s still a deeply engaging, dramatic, and educational novel with characters who surprise and inspire.

This is the first novel in a three-book series about these characters. I unfortunately read the last one first, then this one. I will now eagerly read the middle one (Mustard Seed) and look forward to learning more about our country’s transition from pre to post Civil War. If you’re interested in the series, I recommend reading the three books in sequence.

More about the author.

You may be interested in my review of the other two books in this series:

Mustard Seed (#2)

Golden Poppies (#3)

Scarlet Carnation (#4)