Review: Remembrance by Rita Woods

Remembrance arrived on my doorstep when the COVID-19 lockdown started. It came with some goodies that make my first couple weeks feel a whole lot better.

Remembrance, coffee, and a mug

Because I gave up coffee a while ago I only had my dad’s coffee filters (for when my parent’s visit) and used a rubber band to hold it in place while the hot water did its thing. It’s only redneck if it doesn’t work, right? Or did I get that wrong…I don’t know. But my patience was rewarded with some amazing coffee in a beautiful mug made by awesome women of Papillon.

Anyway, on to my thoughts.

Book description

Remembrance…It’s a rumor, a whisper passed in the fields and veiled behind sheets of laundry. A hidden stop on the underground road to freedom, a safe haven protected by more than secrecy…if you can make it there. 

Ohio, present day. An elderly woman who is more than she seems warns against rising racism as a young nurse grapples with her life.

Haiti, 1791, on the brink of revolution. When the slave Abigail is forced from her children to take her mistress to safety, she discovers New Orleans has its own powers.

1857 New Orleansa city of unrest: Following tragedy, house girl Margot is sold just before her promised freedom. Desperate, she escapes and chases a whisper…. Remembrance.

Review

Full disclosure: I have never really enjoyed supernatural or fantasy elements in my historical fiction. I also dislike most alternative history. I could not get into The Underground Railroad (by Colson W.) no matter how badly I wanted to. But Remembrance caught my eye. Here’s why: Woods uses an element (voodoo) that is reasonable for the time, but still markedly different than usual alternatives to history. In other words, it’s unique but not ridiculous.

Essentially, this book revolves around a fictional settlement called Remembrance that acts as a safe haven for free blacks and runaway slaves. How can this be, in the middle of the US pre Civil War? I don’t think telling you will give away any spoilers. After a time of horror, recovery (if one can ever recover), and self-discovery, Abigail bends space to makes the settlement invisible. She and her friend Josiah sort of keep each other alive and the settlement safe, in a way.

But people don’t live forever, and Remembrance can’t be invisible forever either. When the first slave catcher makes it in unhindered, life in remembrance begins to crumble, but it also reveals the strength and loyalty that people carry deep down. Layers of mystery and suspense unfold to reveal inter-connected characters that face huge odds. Even with the three timelines that end up converging, and the multiple characters, Woods makes crafting these characters seem effortless.

I didn’t feel a super strong connection to the characters but I also know I can’t completely identify with them, so I was mostly on the outside of the story, watching. It didn’t detract from the experience much.

Woods weaves a tale that reveals the best and worst parts of all of us, whether it’s how to get along with people we really don’t like, or the uncertainty people can feel around those who would historically do them wrong. She doesn’t shy away from using words that make people gasp. Yes, those words. They existed. She puts them the exact right spot to make the impact needed and then continues.

In closing…

So, yes I would recommend this book to anyone. I realized at some point last year that most of the books I have read are from a certain perspective that tiptoe around matters of race. Well, screw that. I want the truth and I want to know the different levels of experience. This year has been much more exciting!

Don’t let my absolute delight in seeing that package on my doorstep fool you…I never buy or try to acquire a book I don’t think I’ll like. Sometimes I’m surprised, but I’m too ashamed to show you the ones that don’t make the cut.

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