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If Sons, Then Heirs

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  358 ratings  ·  69 reviews
The critically acclaimed author of Black Ice, Pride, and The Price of a Child offers this deeply moving story of a family’s challenge to reunite, understand the truth about its past, and secure its legacy.


If Sons, Then Heirs sheds light on a uniquely American, largely untold story of African American land ownership, the outmigration from the South, racial violence, and th
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 19th 2011 by Atria Books (first published April 12th 2011)
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Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Absorbing. Hard to let go of the characters in this multigenerational family of strong descendants of slaves and sharecroppers and their relationship to the land and a violent history in rural South Carolina. The author tells a compelling story about the relatively unknown (to me at least) story of "heir property". This a special form of ownership created to reward former slaves following the Sherman campaign. Of course whites took what measures they could to limit the rights of owners and make ...more
Feb 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2011
If Sons, Then Heirs is a complex novel about family, legacy and land. For generations the Needham family has owned and worked the land in South Carolina, but after the patriarch, King is murdered and World War II, most of the members made their way North leaving only Selma, King's widow, behind. Alonzo Rayne, the 30 year old great-grandson of King, is one of the few who has stayed in touch and made annual pilgrimages back. On his latest trip it becomes clear that Selma is too old to maintain the ...more
Nandi Crawford
It starts a bit slow, but once you dig in a bit, oh, it's real good. You got this young fella, Rayne, who lives with Lillie, a African American/Filipina who has a son Khalil, and Rayne decides to get down to South Carolina to see his great stepgrandmother Selma, who is the bearer of burdens and deeds that she really needs Rayne to come down there and help to unsort it and sort it out. On top of it, Selma is getting older and needs more care. So, off he goes and as we get into the book, we find r ...more
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful! All the elements of a great novel. Definitely 5 star. Pacing was great, prose was fantastic. The story is engrossing and quite believable. And the treatment of Black Men was thoroughly refreshing. What more can I say? Read it!
May 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
If Sons, then Heirs by Lorene Cary broke my heart by page 5. This was an especially bad thing to do since I was just peeking at the book. It showed up in my post office box near the end of the semester and I knew I wouldn't be able to touch it for weeks. It taunted me on my bookshelf. The first time in a long time a book called out to be read. When I finally got a chance to start reading it, I devoured it.

The story begins with 30-year-old Rayne searching for the mother who put him on a train to
May 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons…And if sons, then heirs…
Romans 8:15,17

Lorene Cary references this powerful scripture at the beginning of the novel, and builds the foundation of the narrative upon it. An impressively and beautifully written story, If Sons Then Heirs tells of the power of family, and how that bond can be restored from an imperfect past. Cary also addresses the subject of adoption, and depicts h
Lisa Eckstein
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2011
The book opens with a family tree charting the many members of the Needham family, who are descended from slaves. The novel is set in the present day, with some flashbacks to other eras, and concentrates on a few members from one branch of the tree. But all the other relatives are important because the story's main conflict concerns a piece of heir property, land owned jointly by all descendants of the original owners.

The characters and storytelling in this book are fantastic. There's a wonderfu
Apr 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a solid book. It is an enjoyable read- enjoyable story with enjoyable characters. It is not whiz bang literary pyrotechnics. There is no multilayered, multiplotted, circular, decoder ring necessary narrative. We get a look into the lives of one family. We see how the past effects their present, how their present selves struggle and plan and organize for the future. We see the wounds of this country's unatoned for crime of slavery and the legacy of racism that continues to this day. But w ...more
Kimberly Hicks
This book was wonderfully written from a technical standpoint, but the story fell very short, in my opinion. For me, this story was too detailed to the point it caused confusion and made me have to go back over certain sections to follow the storyline. There were parts that didn't fit well together and the characters weren't that strong. For one, I didn't like the main character's first name, Rayne. I just felt for the type of character he was, he had such a soft name for such a big man, which m ...more
Sep 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011-reads, the-south
I enjoyed this book, and liked the characters of Rayne, Khalil, Jones, King, and Selma in particular. I liked Lillie, but would like to have known more about her and her background. I found the Heirs Property information to be fascinating, and have been reading up on the laws online. Fascinating and frustrating stuff--how far the rich and powerful will go/have gone/continue to go to manipulate the poor and uneducated.

That said, I found parts of this story frustrating. Jewell's story of meeting J
Jun 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Kathryn by: Read In Colour
After I read a review of this book from a twitter friend, I was all on board to give a try. I found this book during Borders' going out of business sale and was excited.

This book centers around Alonzo Rayne and the Needham family. The core of the story tells of a parcel of heir property that needs to be dealt with to help the matriarch, Selma, be taken care of in her old age. There is also a story of redemption when it comes to Alonzo's mother, Jewell, who gave him up at a very young age. Racis
Jul 31, 2011 rated it liked it
This book was thought provoking and deepened my knowledge about the legacies of slavery and violence in the Jim crow south. These injustices are imprinted on families and wend their way into people's histories perpetuating through subsequent generations. This theme is powerful and palpable.

The book covered a great deal of territory and at times I found myself wanting some more depth about the living characters. There were times i felt confusion and a sense of being mystified or as if I were miss
Oct 21, 2011 rated it liked it
I loved Cary when I read The Price of a Child - everyone must read that book. When If Not Sons hit the market I was excited. Unforuntately, I did not enjoy this story as much - probably because I like historical subjects and this novel was set in contemporary Philly and North Carolina. The upside to this story was that family ties and decisions made in good conscience of a particular time have linger effects that impact future generations. So there was a smidgen of history. The issue of inherita ...more
Apr 28, 2011 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book. It was full of quirky characters that kept the story moving, however, I was disappointed in the disposition of the storyline. It felt as if the author realized the length of the book and tried to tie up loose ends quick, fast and in a hurry. It could have been a better novel if there was more explanation, conflict and resolution for each of the characters. Perhaps she will re-visit them in another book but this was a lost opportunity and a letdown after a great buildup.
It took a while to get into the book but I'm glad that I hung in there. It was worth some of the confusion but the story was brilliantly told. What happens when we lose that which has held a family together? The book takes you through that process. ...more
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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Apr 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
If Sons, Then Heirs is a very different kind of book compared to the ones I usually read. It divulges into African-American history throughout the last hundred or so years as well as some universal themes: love, family, and the ties that bring people together in the end. However, while I managed to learn quite a bit from this book and its characters, I still had a few little problems with it.

One thing I did enjoy, though, was the characters. The main front-runners (Rayne, Selma, and Jewell) wer
Aug 12, 2011 rated it liked it
I asked for this book for Christmas because of a NYTimes book review that mentioned one of the central concerns of the novel: heir property, or joint ownership of land, usually amongst heirs of one particular relative who originally owned the land. This can be a way for people to preserve land in a family, instead of individually, but can also be unwieldy if the heirs and the heirs' heirs (and so forth) vacate the land and/or sell their shares. And often it just happens when people don't leave w ...more
Jun 13, 2012 rated it liked it
In "If Sons Then Heirs", Lorene Cary captures the inter-generational struggles within a modern African American family. There are many points of stress within this story -- an aging matriarch who is struggling to hold on to land belonging to her husband and his heirs (which, by the way, doesn't include the matriarch who is a second wife); a son abandoned by his mother only to be reconnected 20 something years later; the mother who abandoned the son who struggles with that decision of 20 years ag ...more
Oct 09, 2011 rated it liked it
Alonzo Rayne was abandoned by his mother at 7 years old, and sent down to South Carolina to live with his Great-Nana Selma and grandfather, Bobo. He reaches out to her twenty years later to attempt some semblance of a relationship. Also Selma is aging and unable to get around the way she used to, so Rayne would like to sell the land that she has been living on for over fifty years, and move her closer to him in Philadelphia. On his latest trip to South Carolina during Holy Week, he learns that s ...more
Apr 06, 2018 rated it liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed If Sons, Then Heirs. What has ironically been called "the inconvenience of being black" in America is as embedded in this story as it is in American life. And as in life, this entails not only more than minor inconveniences, but also tragedy, the details of which are hinted at and then finally revealed in grim and frightening detail. What made all this bearable for me were the characters. They are easy to like, even when flawed, all of them wonderfully drawn. They love and c ...more
Apr 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
At a time when African American families were discouraged from owning land from the laws, to threats, to all out violence, King Needham managed to acquire land for his family, in South Carolina. After King's death most of the family moves to Philadelphia fearing for their own lives. The only one who stays is King's widow Selma and she will not be moved. For decades Selma's carried the burden of protecting Needham's land all alone. Finally Selma allows Rayne her great grandson, who she raised to ...more
In the early stages of this book read, I was slightly confused, re-read some passages or chapters, and constantly reverting to the family tree chart in the beginning of the book for clarification. Some parts were overly descriptive and I wanted to connect to the characters more so--and finally happened on page 139, "I didn't give you up because you were bad, Lonnie. I gave you up because I was bad."

There were some prejudices in the family and outside of family relations besides the heir propert
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
I found this book quite boring Practically nothing occurred within the first 100 pages. The happenings that follow unfold slowly. The end of the book is quite anti-climatic and not worth the tedious read. On the bright side, the author does a good job of writing in dialect. The places and the people seem and sound real. The author brings up a number of serious issues (e.g. child abuse, lynching, violence, child abandonment) which are not satisfactorily dealt with. There are also references to th ...more
Lucy Montgomery
Aug 14, 2011 rated it liked it
I've enjoyed reading Lorene Cary's other work, and expected to like If Sons Then Heirs much more than I did. I'm not sure if I did not understand the book due to racial/cultural issues or if it the plot was just not engaging. I found the characters underdeveloped, the supposedly enormous secrets rather obvious and the plot generally slow moving -- altogether a plodding, predictable tale. The subject matter -- the history of African-Americans in the post-slavery south, their migration north, and ...more
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was ok. It got really good in the middle and to the end. Its another multigenerational tale of family, redemption, and hope. We are taken on a journey with the Needham family who were originally from South Carolina, but most migrated north to Phillly. Rayne, the great-grandson of family patriarch, King, goes down to South Carolina to visit Nana Selma and he takes his girlfriend's son, Khalil, with him. In SC, Rayne becomes enthralled by the failing family farm and its legal battle. The ...more
I liked that this story was about land and landowners during the time of slavery. However this was a uniquely written book. I have seen other authors use the past and present style before. In the beginning the story seems to move along slowly, the story does pick up right about the time of Rayne accepts Selma's request to search and investigate the will and land ownership. There are a few oddities in the relationships and scene structure. Overall it is a story need to be told and a story that gi ...more
U. Teresa
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Good book overall, but I would have like to see the plot developed more around Rayne. I think he had the potential to be more complex. I found him three dimensional, but he wasn't dynamic enough for me. The plot also jumped around too much for me, and there wasn't good "signaling" for such transitions. I like the book and would recommend it for a Southern Literature course with Go Down, Moses as touchstone for a focus on land, race, heirs, and traditions. ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, fiction
This is a truly lovely story. My only criticism, which is slight and is probably somewhat of a compliment, is that I think the author (who I will now seek out her other stories) struggled with writing a male protagonist, and she writes him a little too much like a woman. The characters come right up off the page, though, and there is this wonderful rich history the author shares with us. Not quite a must-read, but a true gem.
Mar 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The first pages of this book captured my attention and it was never diverted or disappointed. The author connects an abandoneed son with his mother; shows us the links between estranged brothers and sisters and their children (heirs) and provides enough historical background to make the reader more interested with each chapter. A synopsis of the book is available; I couldn't wait for the final chapter and now I am hoping for a sequel. ...more
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Lorene Cary (born 1956, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is an American author, educator, and social activist.

Cary grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1972, she was invited to the elite St. Paul's boarding school in New Hampshire, on scholarship, entering in St. Paul's second year of co-education as one of the less than ten African-American female students. She spe

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