This is the second book in a three-novel series about the lives of White and Black Americans in the 19th century, following the American Civil War. For me, it is the final book of the series, since I regrettably did not read the series in order. But I strongly recommend the entire series and I encourage you to read them in sequence, so you can follow the relationships developing and changing among the central characters. I awarded four stars on Goodreads to the entire series.
In MUSTARD SEED, once again two strong and closely connected women and their families take center stage. Mattie, a former slave, practices midwifery in the abolitionist town of Oberlin, Ohio — living with her husband Emmanuel, son Samuel, and daughter Jordan. Nearby, is Lisbeth Johnson, the daughter of Mattie’s former owner for whom Mattie served as wet nurse. Lisbeth, who has rejected the slave system of the Old South, also lives with her husband Matthew, son Sammy, and daughter Sadie.
In this novel, circumstances force both women to return to their homes in Virginia, for different reasons; Lisbeth to make peace with her dying father, Mattie to collect a close friend’s daughter and move her north. Once each arrives, however, life during Reconstruction interferes in their carefully planned visits. And once again, Mattie and Lisbeth find themselves relying on one another to navigate their respective crises.
Through the stories of these women, we as readers get to emotionally experience how little the Civil War actually changed the lives of Black Americans. The injustices may have been given new names, but the same vulnerability existed. Parents and children separated, men randomly grabbed off the streets and forced to work the fields of wealthy Whites, and pervasive and intense brutality and deprivation.
In the climate of Black Lives Matter and its potential to foster a deeper understanding of America’s history of slavery, Laila Ibrahim’s series provides a action-packed, deeply human, and sobering exploration of life in America from the mid 1800s into the early 1900s. It is guaranteed to give you a better understanding of the shameful economic institution of slavery and the legacy of racism that we all still struggle with today.
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You may be interested in my reviews of the other two novels in this series:
Yellow Crocus (#1)
Golden Poppies (#3)