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Cane River

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  42,520 Ratings  ·  1,933 Reviews
A New York Times bestseller and Oprah's Book Club Pick-the unique and deeply moving saga of four generations of African-American women whose journey from slavery to freedom begins on a Creole plantation in Louisiana.

Beginning with her great-great-great-great grandmother, a slave owned by a Creole family, Lalita Tademy chronicles four generations of strong, determined black
Paperback, 522 pages
Published April 1st 2002 by Grand Central Publishing (first published January 1st 2001)
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Nicole Northrup So far, this book features that normal abuses of slaveholding men to slave women. The ones that were known to happen but discretely "ignored" in the…moreSo far, this book features that normal abuses of slaveholding men to slave women. The ones that were known to happen but discretely "ignored" in the antebellum period. There can be too many nice manners!(less)
KIMBERLY FRIEDE No. The story certainly tells about the white slave owners treatment and use of the female slaves. I did not read anything about a brutal rape of a…moreNo. The story certainly tells about the white slave owners treatment and use of the female slaves. I did not read anything about a brutal rape of a child. (less)

Community Reviews

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Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-completed
One of the strongest parts of this book that stood out for me was the depth and breadth of the characters, particularly the women. This novel is a fictional depiction of the author’s own family tree for six generations exclusively through the female line with one exception: her grandfather. The personalities and portrayals of all the people throughout this novel are so real that it felt like I personally knew each one of them. I could picture each one like a finely detailed pen and ink portrait ...more
Julie H.
Sep 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I should divulge that I formerly lived along Cane River (the in-town part) and was given a free copy by our local National Park unit at a public symposium. I started the book that night at bedtime, thinking I'd read for an hour or so, per usual. Well I was up until well after 4:00 a.m. finishing this thing! When I showed up slightly bleary-eyed for class the next day, one of our observant grad students (thanks, Melissa!) asked whether I'd been up all night finishing "the Book of Crack" as she ca ...more
May 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: a-the-best
What a gorgeous novel. The key thing is, is that this novel was based on Lalita Tademy's own family history. She calls it fiction, though, because she had to elaborate and add rich detail to the simple stories she had been told of her grandmothers before her.

What shocked me most about this novel was that it was Tademy's first. Her writing seems to reflect years and years of writing before her, it flows so well and the language is so rich. You can't criticize her characters, because they are real
Monica **can't read fast enough**
If you are looking for historical fiction that focuses on the lives and struggles of African American women, I highly recommend picking up Cane River. Lalita Tademy has turned her family story into a fictionalized account of three generations of women who have each faced physical and emotional trauma with strength, dedication to family, and a burning need to move their families forward. When faced with no choice but to physically submit themselves to the men who hold the power of life and death ...more
Jun 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was a little cautious entering this book. First off, it's an Oprah book choice and those are generally a bit on the depressing side. Secondly, what I knew of the plot of the book was that it was about a family of women slaves during the Civil War era....which could be depresing, graphic, etc. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Granted, some of the situations that happen to the family of women in the book are sad, and make me frustrated that people were ever treated that way, the overall ...more
Aug 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
A work of historical fiction focusing on the lives of 4 generations of women in Creole Louisiana, from the slave woman matriarch brought to Cane River from Virginia in 1820 to the early 20th century, with a brief epilogue in 1936. All but the first generation had children by white fathers--one by force, one by a coldly calculated relationship intended to benefit the children, & one by a long-term loving relationship hampered by ostracism & legal constraints. The special challenge of thes ...more
Megan Baxter
Sep 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Cane River is an odd mix of fiction and non-fiction, and I'm not sure it entirely works. It feels like trying to find the balance between the two constrains the narrative in ways that either one by itself would not. As non-fiction, it is limited by the availability of sources, and it truly seems like there is much that has to be speculative. As fiction, it is equally limited by the sources - the author is hemmed in by what she does know, and that structure seems binding.

Note: The rest of this re
Sep 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
I come from two long lines of strong women. They survived the hard life of settling in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, the pain and loss of childbirth, disease, economic hardship, the Depression, the helplessness of dealing with alcoholism and many other tragedies and difficulties of life. But none of them, to my knowledge, had to suffer the indignities of slavery. Lalita Tademy's book, Cane River, tells in fictional form the stories of four generations of the women in her family.

The story,
Oct 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone -- the strongly portrayed characters will draw you in
Cane River is a wonderful novel, which I highly recommend. I learned a lot about the slave/plantation/small farmer experience of Creole Louisiana. Especially interesting are the details about the gens de couleur libre and the long line of interracial unions (both forced and chosen) among Tademy's ancestors. An important thread that runs from beginning to end in Cane River is the impact of skin color biases within the black community, and Tademy's family specifically.

San Francisco Bay Area native
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
Really not good. Which I knew by around page 5. But I read all 500 pages to the end, mostly because my next set of books from Amazon hadn't arrived yet. Interesting story and concept, but the writing is just stinky. It's definitely got the vibe of "I quit my job at Sun to write a fiction book." The dialogue is really bad and the characters are just poorly developed (even though they're real people).
3,5 *
I have to admit that I was a little bored throughout the first half of this novel, I dont know exactly why, but I think it was the plot and the many characters that I thought forced somehow. It was like the author had to have all names involved down on paper no matter what the consequence, and I ended up with a feeling that it wasnt an important book - which I know it was!
The second half was a little better (to me) and I ended up with 3,5 *. I find it admirable that the author has written a
Dec 07, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't ever remember reading Roots, by Alex Haley. I do remember liking the miniseries when it came out, more for the experience of understanding how lives so different from my own unfolded in times very different from my own. Cane River is like Roots. Maybe not quite as non-fictional, but nonetheless a compelling story of the lives across three generations of African-american women in the 1800's and early 1900's. It's thick, very thick. It touches upon the issues of "bleaching the line", the r ...more
Mar 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am always wary when it comes to books written by regular people who decided to discover their family history. They more often than not are of interest only to the authors and their relatives. And they are usually badly written.
Also this was an "Oprah" book, so I was expecting lots of gooey 'women power' yadda-yadda.

I was pleasantly surprised. Wheares Ms Tademy might not win Nobel Prize for literature anytime soon I don't feel I have wasted my time. She doesn't over-romantacise her heroines - s
Jul 16, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. A friend really loved this book, so maybe my expectations were too high. I just didn't love it as much as I thought I would.
Leah Beecher
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read this one a while ago and did not jot it down in my Book Lover's Diary Journal, so I will relate what I remember. This was an Oprah Book. It has such an interesting backround in that the author Lalita Tademy, wrote this after quitting her job to research her own family heritage. Real documents and photos of the characters, her ancestors, fill the book. The author successfully researched back to her what I think was her great-great-great-great grandmother. A slave.
The narrative is broken in
Jan 10, 2014 rated it liked it
"Cane River" is a family saga of 4+ generations of African American women from slavery to the 1930s. The writing is straightforward, even simple; not great. I found it hard to engage at first, but the narrative eventually becomes engrossing. This is actually a fictionalized family history -- real people, real dates, real events but re-imagined with dialog and inner thoughts of the characters. That gives it a resonance that is deeper than the writing. As I said, it's about the women. The only men ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Cane River covers 137 years of the author's family history, written as fiction, but rooted in research, historical fact and family stories. The matriarch of the line was the Negress, Elisabeth, sold away from a plantation in Virginia to the backwaters of Louisiana. It was heartbreaking at times to read the stories of her descendants' families as they were torn apart by slave auctions, abandoned by their fathers who were white, and faced the sentence of illiteracy. At the same time, it was inspi ...more
Mar 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a captivating novel, based on the author's own genealogy. Set in antebellum Louisiana, it traces the lives of African Americans, particularly women, from slavery to freedom. Tademy's ancestors lived at a fascinating, if often grim, time in the nation's history, and the novel depicts the many obstacles they faced even after the Civil War, particularly for couples of mixed race. Highly recommended.
Aug 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Kelly's Favorite.
Mar 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the historical fiction aspect of this. It covers a particular time in history that I always love to get lost in.

This started out strong. The balance of both the historical and the fiction seemed to work right out of the gate. They were married well together, but as the story shifts to different generations, sometimes one or the other gets lost. It sometimes felt like an info dump, which is not a good thing. And sometimes it felt like a character parade. So somewhere after the first gen
Cynthia Marie
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book demonstrated the importance of knowing our history and touched me in ways most books do not because of the narrative of the strength and resilience of black women. It resonated with me deeply because I come from a family of strong black women. This book covered 137 years of the author's incredible family history. Black women have always been strong and these women persevered, no matter what!
Carolyn Quenneville
Historical fiction

Well written novel of one family’s history of challenges and success. Each character comes alive to weave the determination to better themselves.
[A]s much as she would do to protect the new life inside her, their making had nothing to do with how careful she was allowed to be.
Judging by the fallout, this work spent too much time on my shelves, but then again, I don't think I would've put up with the level of the quality and structural integrity of the writing even back when I first acquired the book, or even when I first digitally added it to my shelves. I've read critiques of the handling of swinging back and forth between fictio
Sep 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful and Soulful

Publishers description: "Five generations and a hundred years in the life of a matriarchal black Louisiana family are encapsulated in this ambitious debut novel that is based in part upon the lives, as preserved in both historical record and oral tradition, of the author's ancestors. In 1834, nine-year-old Suzette, the "cocoa-colored" house servant of a Creole planter family, has aspirations to read, to live always in a "big house" and maybe even to marry into the relatively
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Cane River is an interesting, if easy book. Lalita Tademy traced her ancestry through four generations of remarkable woman, each struggling for her freedom in different ways. This is their story. First we have Elisabeth and then her daughter Suzette, who is the first to know the joys and the heartbreaks of freedom, her daughter Philomene, Philomene's daughter Emily. All of these women are different, and they all go through different trials and tribulations, but they all have one thing in common: ...more
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How did I miss this book? Lalita Tademy's family story is so well written, and the product of such excellent research that it could be considered history. Tademy not only gives us her family saga based upon stories, historical documents, but she gives us a picture of slavery in Louisiana. Of course, I knew that many French people settled that area, but I didn't realize that French men didn't have the aversion to Negros/ slaves that was characteristic of most white slave owners. Some French farme ...more
Jan 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is the fictionalized account of Tademy's real ancestors over five generations beginning as slaves on a river plantation in Louisiana in the 1830s and continuing through the Civil War, emancipation, Jim Crow laws up through to the 1930s. There were so many hardships to be endured, yet these strong women triumphed over just about anything that was thrown their way and continued generation after generation to raise independent-minded and determined children.

It is easy to think of emancipation
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book after I read the author's story in Chicken Soup. I admire her, having taken that leap of faith, deciding to leave her top corporate job, just so she can concentrate on her mission to find out about her family, her roots. She herself admitted that she didn't really know what compelled her to resign; and she didn't have any idea then where that decision would take her. Well, it took her to a two-year long discovery of he lineage, and eventually to a bestseller.

The author, Lal
Sep 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
I found this book on the bargain table and picked it up to read when I needed something in between other books. I am very thankful that I read this book…I truly enjoyed it. The author takes the real life people from her family’s genealogy and puts them within a heart breaking and loving story set in the backcountry of Louisiana in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The story deals extensively with racial relations between whites and blacks because throughout most of the book, the characters are ...more
This was a pick for my face to face book club. I generally either love or hate Oprah's picks. Upon reading the synopsis, I thought this might be really interesting, but unfortunately, it never got off the ground for me. The author is writing about 4 generations of her family who started out as slaves in the Cane River area of Louisiana. While there was some interesting explanations about the hierarchy of the people in that area (free people of color, mulattos, Creoles, etc), the characterization ...more
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LALITA TADEMY left the corporate world to immerse herself in tracing her family's history and writing her first historical novel, CANE RIVER. Her debut was selected by Oprah Winfrey as her summer book group pick in 2001.

Lalita Tademy's second historical novel, RED RIVER is set during Reconstruction-era Louisiana a time period and subject matter often summarily skimmed in our history books. The sto
More about Lalita Tademy
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“You can't tell how heavy somebody else's load is just from looking. The Lord doesn't give us more than we can carry” 38 likes
“Reaching too deep into something not meant for you is full of pain. Figure out what you can have and work on that” 22 likes
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