Scarlet Carnation – by Laila Ibrahim – independent book review – Historical Fiction (United States)

The fourth book in Laila Ibrahim’s series (Freedman/Johnson #4) of historical novels, SCARLET CARNATION continues the story of Mattie and Lisbeth’s families, connected across the generations by the legacy of slavery and the power of love. I highly recommend this sequel, though I strongly suggest reading the entire series in order*. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.

Beginning in 1915 and ending with the Armistice in 1918, this book looks at American life in Oakland California, in the years leading up to and including World War I. At the center are Mattie’s granddaughter, Naomi, and Lisbeth’s granddaughter, May. Naomi’s story focuses on the black descendants of this mixed race family and May’s follows its white descendants.

As the book begins, Naomi is a successful midwife, married, and the mother of three nearly grown children. Her dream for her family is to own a home. The younger May works as a secretary in an academic office at a university. She is deeply in love with a man finishing up his doctorate and is expecting his proposal any day. May envisions a perfect life ahead, surrounded by smart people and stimulating ideas. But, as always happens, life has some big surprises in store for both women.

The author skillfully includes some of the big dramatic themes and events of the period, as both women’s stories unfold, all based in historical fact, like:

– A strong anti-war sentiment which helps propel a racist Woodrow Wilson into a second term as president.

– The widespread opposition to war commonly found among women, especially mothers.

Segregation efforts by white Americans to legally limit integration in neighborhoods.

– Early work by the NAACP (formed 1909) to fight for equal protection for Black Americans.

– Violent acts of racism within the armed forces.

– The sudden and devastating impact of the Spanish Flu Epidemic (1918 – 20).

Author Laila Ibrahim
(photo from her website)

But what transcends all is connection, particularly the relationships forged between women. And how important family and faith are in what turns out to be a quintessential American family. It’s a fascinating look at American life in this period, illustrating how far we have come in the slow movement toward a truly just and equitable society. AND, how far we still have to go!

More about the author, Laila Ibrahim.

*You may be interested in my reviews of the previous novels in the Freedman/Johnson series by this author:

YELLOW CROCUS

MUSTARD SEED

GOLDEN POPPIES

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