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Fire in Beulah

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  190 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
Rilla Askew's first novel, The Mercy Seat, which was lauded as powerful and arresting by The New York Times Book Review and an extraordinary story by the Boston Globe proved that she was not afraid to tackle big, primal American themes. Her newest, Fire in Beulah, set in the same heartland territory as The Mercy Seat, is a chronicle of race, greed, and moral choice in the ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 15th 2001 by Viking Adult
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Books Set In Oklahoma
55th out of 117 books — 55 voters
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94th out of 290 books — 27 voters

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Community Reviews

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"Whose hand set them houses afire? Not God's hand. God don't make that gun on the hill to spit and chatter, He haven't created machines to fly in the air above smoke and drop fire in jars and bottles, to make fire on God's people, by God's people, to kill God's people, Lord, Lord."

Nothing saddens me more - breaking my heart into a thousand shards of sorrow - than to learn of, read about, atrocities committed in the name of hatred and prejudiced. Prejudice spawned by fear, ignorance, and greed;
Hennessey Library
This is a devastating book, hard to read, hard to put down, hard to begin, and it haunts the reader's day, especially the Oklahoma reader with some connection to Eastern Oklahoma and Tulsa. The climactic scenes of Fire in Beulah explode in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, but the book is less about race and more about kinship, Rilla Askew's recurring theme. The threads of relationship draw two women, one white, one black, more tightly to one another as the events spin out, and each woman grows gen ...more
Samantha Manuel
Jun 03, 2015 Samantha Manuel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is hands-down the best book I have ever read. Yes, it is deep and lengthy, but the raw nature, the intensity, the history!!! I heard Askew speak once, and she answered many of the questions that I had held about the book. The amount of research and time that went into this book is obvious (more than 10 years by the way). Needless to say, I would recommend this to everyone.
Amanda Wilson-McDougle

When I think of the opening setting of Fire in Beulah, I do not get the image of a family like the March family in Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women. Fire in Buelah has quite the opposite environment. The lady of the Whiteside residence, Rachel Whiteside makes the choice of protecting herself inside her upstairs bedroom. Her reasoning of not wanting the wind "suck the life from her unborn child" (3) seems logical enough. For the previous seven days, the south wind has struck the Deep Fork R
Apr 15, 2015 Martha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This stand alone great book, published in 2001, is a must read for anyone. But it is especially poignant for people who was reared in or are currently living in Oklahoma. This is the story of the relationship between an oil wildcatter's wife, Althea, and her housemaid, Graceful. This 1920's historical novel takes place around northeastern and central Oklahoma leading up to the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921. A truly sad and pathetic story of greed, hate, mistrust, lawlessness and redemption. Stories l ...more
Apr 03, 2015 Leah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, history
This is an intense book, but gripping and very well-written. They say there's nothing like fiction for placing you inside the head of someone who is very different from yourself, and this book is a fine example of that rule.

I was interested in reading this because I grew up in Tulsa, and the story of the race riot was always present, but I had never really explored it historically. Fire in Beulah really personalizes the terror and inhumanity of the riot, putting names and faces on the perpetrato
Kirsten Tautfest
Fictional account set in the years & days leading up to the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921. This was my second read through of this book. I have since the first reading of it praised it as an eye opener into the dark oily gritty side of Oklahoma history. However after my second read through the characters to me come off as flat and the POV jumps. There are text type changes which is probably why there is no Kindle version of this book or large print which is a shame for older readers. But even then ...more
Joy Weese Moll
Aug 18, 2016 Joy Weese Moll rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a selection for our book club that specializes in books on race in America. Our book group mostly reads nonfiction so it’s always a treat when we put a good novel on the list. Historical novels can be particularly helpful in teaching us about the history that we weren’t taught in school. In this case, we learned about what is sometimes called “Black Wall Street” — the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma that had a flourishing black community in the early 1900s, complete with wealt ...more
I read this last year for the Oklahoma Centennial. It was a good way to find out some of the history of Tulsa, but at times hard to plow through. Parts of it are intensely boring, however, overall not a bad book if you are into Oklahoma authors and historical fiction.
Dec 10, 2007 Ellie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who like fictionalized history
This is a fictionalized account of the Tulsa race riots in 1921. While not a genre I'd typically go for, I picked up this book and was immediately hooked. Askew's writing is haunting and mesmerizing; from the first sentence you sense the impending doom.
Dec 02, 2012 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All it was cracked up to be. Had me in the first page and a half! I was kind of tired of historical fiction, I thought. Can't wait to read the rest of her books. Thanks for the referral, Susan!
May 12, 2016 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I grew up just a few miles west of Tulsa. Amazingly throughout my K-12 education not one teacher spoke of this tragic event. In fact, I was totally unaware until about 4 years ago when I was doing some research on my home town of Sand Springs, OK. When I read about it, I asked an older relative who gave me a surprising bit of information. My maternal grandparents sheltered some of those fleeing the raid on Greenwood on their farm. For whatever reason, this bit of Tulsa history and family history ...more
Oct 08, 2013 Pat rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Rilla Askew is an extremely talented and visionary writer;she is proud of being an Oklahoman and has set herself the task of telling the myriad stories of her state's origins, in the multiple voices of all its peoples,whites,blacks,Native American,Latino,etalia. As she proved in The Mercy Seat, she knows how to inhabit the dreams and sensibilities of people of color and alternate ethnicity.Her descriptive ability rivals the greatest American authors, so it was with great anticipation that I pick ...more
Feb 27, 2016 Maryanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy reading history through fiction as this genre allows heart and soul to enter the story. This book is no exception. This story brings to light the fierce racial ignorance and hatred around 1920. The separate yet entwined lives of the whites and blacks, along with the love and hate is poignant throughout the book. I had hoped to see the family connection or not as the white employer and the black maid shared the same family name.
Oct 01, 2013 D rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb story of two women caught in turbulent times in a vicious society. The context is Oklahoma during the early twentieth century oil boom. Money has made men drunk with greed. Racism has made an entire region--if not nation--callous and inhumane. Askew's characters are very real and transforming. Her writing is compelling, elegant, and gripping. As a bonus, she's done her homework. This story is securely lodged in unspoken Oklahoma history. By the time the novel ends, readers will have had a ...more
Rilla Askew is a wonderful and powerful writer, even when building a story around ugly pieces of our history. In this book, she tells of early 20th century Oklahoma, with the boom of the oil industry, and the racial tensions that culminate in the race riots of Tulsa, in 1921. The central figures in this story are Althea Whiteside, seemingly well-to-do wife of an oil speculator, and Graceful, her black maid. Although this book takes place in Oklahoma, the incidents recounted are reminiscent of ou ...more
Oct 28, 2011 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't know much about the Tulsa race riot which is sad since I'm a native Tulsan. While this book is fiction, I suspect it's pretty true to life. I like the way the author wrote this novel in the various voices of the participants in this drama. I found the story disturbing in the cruelty of the "white" people and the warpeed view they had of "black" people. I'm happy to say that we have progressed in our attitudes and actions. This book should be a must read and a basis for discussion in ear ...more
Probably her very best. A must-read, especially if you don't know about the Tulsa race riots.
Oct 09, 2015 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this, mostly for the familiarity of the Oklahoma places and history.
Oct 07, 2012 Gail rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A story of black and white race issues set in the time leading up to the Tulsa Oklahoma race riot. Shows insight into how ingrained thinking about race was for both whites and blacks. Gives a good glimpse of what life was like in a southern oil state in the early 1920's. A quick read through about the Tulsa race riots in Wikipedia would be helpful before beginning the book.
Michaela Ahern
Sep 13, 2014 Michaela Ahern rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookit-book-club
The book takes a while to build and get to the heart of the story but it ends very strong, I found myself racing to finish. I had never heard of the Tulsa race riots before and the story is heavy yet captivating. I tend to overlook books that are overwrought when the story captures my attention. Parts of the story could easily have been cut out as they were boring and didn't add anything to the overall narrative.
May 18, 2009 OMalleycat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting fictional book set at the time of the Tulsa race riots in 1921. The lives of an oilman, his genteelly mentally ill wife, and their maid are explored. The relationships lend insight to the gulf of understanding between people and races that led to the riots. Lots of local interest as the author's research appears impeccable.
Doris Wedge
Jul 24, 2009 Doris Wedge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Get to know two families, one black, one white, as they endure the race riot in Tulsa in the early 1920s. It is a fascinating fictional look at Oklahoma's black communities and culture as it interacted with the white culture in oil-booming Oklahoma.
Jul 28, 2009 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of the story got a little unbelievable and I was shocked at some of the actions of the characters. But, as always, Askew's prose - descriptions, characters' thoughts and feelings, explanations - are so, so, so good.
Well written book. Kept my attention. It was especially interesting because it was based in my home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Just recently I visited a few places on the race riots in Tulsa. Great learning experience. :)
Very good book. A heavy read, dense, but rich in characters and story. You don't breeze through this kind of book. I usually do not like a lot of descripition, but I think Askew's is very poinant.
Rebecca Forster
Sep 27, 2010 Rebecca Forster rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the most moving books I ever read. Rilla Askew's incredible opening was only a taste of what was to come. If you like southern historicals, this one is for you.
Sandy Pfefferkorn
Oct 27, 2013 Sandy Pfefferkorn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fictionalized account about the race riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921. It is well-written, and the characters are well-developed and believable.
Sep 11, 2009 Sskous rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story surrounds the true story of a major fire in Beulah; the complications of the lives of the characters is fascinating and revealing of man's struggles.
Mar 25, 2010 Liz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Liz by: a professor at occc
I learned alot about Oklahoma history and also about the unjust treatment that the blacks in Oklahoma recieved. Does have some language in it.
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Rilla Askew's first novel, The Mercy Seat, had its seeds in old stories about her family’s migration from the American South into Indian Territory. The book was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, was nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Prize, and received the Oklahoma Book Award and the Western Heritage Award in 1998. Fire in Beulah, her novel about the Tulsa Race Riot, received the American Book A ...more
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