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If Sons, Then Heirs

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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 the consequences of past decisions on present realities.

      After World War II, Needham family members migrated north to Philadelphia from South Carolina, leaving behind the tragic injustice surrounding the violent death of their patriarch, King. His devoted widow, Selma, remains on the old home place. Over the years, she raises King’s children, including his great-grandson, Rayne, on whom falls the responsibility to bring the family together to save the family land and mend the rift between him and his mother.

      Rayne and the other vividly drawn characters face challenges big and small that mirror the experiences of families everywhere. But in the masterful storytelling of Lorene Cary, so distinct and unique are their voices that they will live in the minds of readers long after the last page is read.  If Sons, Then Heirs is a tour de force that explores the power of family secrets, bonds, and love. This gripping novel is certain to be on the must-read lists of all who enjoy brilliantly rendered stories of family, love, and American history.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published April 12, 2011

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About the author

Lorene Cary

6 books85 followers
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 spent two years at St. Paul's, graduating in 1974. She earned an undergraduate degree and her MA from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978.
She was awarded a Thouron Fellowship, enabling her to study at the Sussex University in the United Kingdom, where she received an MA in Victorian literature.

After finishing college, Cary worked in publishing for several magazines, including Time, TV Guide, and Newsweek. She also worked as a freelance writer for Essence, American Visions, Mirabella, Obsidian, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. In 1982, Cary returned to St. Paul's as a teacher. She is currently a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania.

After writing a 1988 article about her experience at St. Paul's, she published a longer memoir, Black Ice, which was published in 1991 by Alfred A. Knopf.

In 1995, Cary published her first novel, The Price of a Child. It is based on the escape of Jane Johnson, a slave from North Carolina who escaped to freedom with her two sons while briefly in Philadelphia with her master and his family.

In 1998, Cary published a second novel, Pride, which explores the experiences of four contemporary black middle-class women.

Cary’s first Young Adult book, FREE!, was a collection of non-fiction accounts related to the Underground Railroad, and published by Third World Press/New City Press in 2005.

Cary wrote the script for the videos of The President's House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation, a 2010 exhibition in The President's House in Philadelphia.

On April 19, Cary published her third novel If Sons, Then Heirs.

In 1998 Cary founded Art Sanctuary, an African-American arts and letters organization devoted to presenting regional and national talent in the literary, visual and performing arts. Art Sanctuary annually hosts an African American arts festival, during which writers discuss their work with up to 1,500–2,000 students, and another 2,000–3,000 people participate in panels, workshops, the basketball tournament, teachers' symposium, Family Pavilion, main stage, and other events.

(from Wikipedia)

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 69 reviews
Profile Image for Quinten.
194 reviews6 followers
July 25, 2011
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 it easy for those rights to be lost, and of course the consequences of this complicated form of ownership were hard to predict three generations down.

If sons then heirs refers to a quote from Romans to freed slaves. You are no longer slaves, but sons of God. And if sons, then heirs. While obscure, this is a powerful thread through the story.

This book is not perfect. Clearly Cary tried to fit in some things that she thought were interesting rather than because they told the story the characters needed told. However, this is a story you should read.
Profile Image for Toni.
246 reviews42 followers
March 7, 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 property any longer and Rayne wants to sell the land and use the proceeds to provide housing and care for her. Selma has other ideas and doesn't want the land to leave the family. But complex "heir property" laws make it impossible to do anything without the consent and participation of the entire family and Rayne isn't sure if this is something he wants to tackle. All of this coincides with the re-appearance of Rayne's mother, who abandoned him in South Carolina when he was 7.

This is a compelling family saga that mirrors many stories of African-Americans in the South who have struggled to survive and hold on to land that others have tried (and in a lot of cases succeeded) to take away from then legally, illegally, and sometimes violently. It also illustrates the the great migration North of people who no longer felt safe or that they had a viable future there. My only issue was that the explanation of the entangled heir property laws left me confused a lot of times. But the rich, deep characters portrayed by Cary kept me completely engaged. Another one on my best of the year list.
Profile Image for Nandi Crawford.
342 reviews133 followers
May 12, 2011
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 relatives too bitter to deal with things and still dealing with what happened to the patriarch, King, whose death remains a mystery so off Rayne goes about unfurling long ago secrets, as well as dealing with his mother's reintroduction to his life after giving him up to Selma as a child. How will it end? Worth the time to sit and read.
Profile Image for Andre.
542 reviews146 followers
July 18, 2011
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!
Profile Image for Veronica.
257 reviews41 followers
June 10, 2011
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 his grandfather's house at age 7 and then never had him return. The story plays out as if Rayne was adopted by strangers rather than his grandfather and great-grandmother, Nana Stella. Adoption is a major thread in the story as if that quest of "Who am I?" To ensure a secure retirement for his great-grandmother, he ends up having to dig up past tragedies, secrets and face the fact that his own sad tale springs from one fateful day long before his mother was even born.

The story centers on what is called "heir property," a term used for the plot of land given to one of the ancestors by their former slave master. Thus I got quite a lesson in life during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow South. Don't get me wrong, I knew facts, but what Cary does here is place those facts into lives. She makes the facts live, love and die. She makes them human. Rayne recollects the first time he heard a lynching story. His Uncle Jones tells it to him over Nana Stella's objections. "Jones didn't tell Rayne this story to cripple him, but only to let him know not to believe how things look on the surface; people lie." The harsh reality of life for African-Americans in the South is on almost every page. It's not presented as if they are victims. Rather this family is strong, hella strong.

Cary crafts a beautiful tale of love, family and forgiveness. The characters she created jump off the page, even Nana Stella shuffling along with her walker.And she turns phrases that are just delicate and powerful, like a ballerina taking a leap of faith. By the end of the book, you will feel a part of the Needham family.

I should also warn you that the last third to quarter of the book is a whole box of tissues. I warn because I read the last bits of the book in coffee houses and took all my strength to not bawl like a baby at points. And I was crying the good cry. But there are sad cries too.
Profile Image for BookishGlow.
167 reviews38 followers
May 21, 2011
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 how a family is not solely based upon blood relations, but the unyielding love and devotion to one another. Lorene Cary is an admirable writer, who has the adeptness to create notable and unequivocal characters. I was especially fond of the main character Rayne Needham, who experiences hardships, yet develops into a strong and inspiring man and grows to be the leader of the Needham family. I also love the character Selma Needham, the matriarch of the family, who takes care of the family generational land after suffering a devastating loss.
If Sons Then Heirs is sure to illicit different emotions from the reader, especially laughter, as the story develops and the characters evolve. I am impressed by the raw literary talent of Lorene Cary, and look forward to reading more of her works in the future. I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Lisa Eckstein.
533 reviews23 followers
July 3, 2012
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 wonderful balance between big issues -- the property, a character finding the mother who abandoned him, concerns about an aging relative -- and minor everyday problems like how to keep a small boy entertained.
Profile Image for Rashida.
138 reviews14 followers
October 18, 2011
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 we also see the strength of this family and their goodness and trueness. We see strong black men AND strong black women, and they are realistic for their lack of perfection. I thank Ms. Cary for showing us these people, this history, this tale.
Profile Image for Kimberly Hicks.
Author 1 book196 followers
June 5, 2012
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 maybe that was the reason the author gave him the name. Don't know why that bothered me, but it did. The book is critically acclaimed, but I'm not sure why, except for the fact that she outlined, in great detail, how "heir property" was obtained by blacks back in the day.

Rayne's mother Jewel gave him up to her family down south, as in Carolina, to be exact, wherein his grandparents raised him from seven years old until he went off to college. His girlfriend helps him search for his mother, which he luckily finds, as he wants to build a relationship with her since their parting many years ago. As he journeys back down south to see his great-grandmother, he learns about the "heir property" and has to involve his family from Philadelphia, to get involved to keep from losing the property his great-grandmother slaved over to keep in their family. As he embarks on what feels like an impossible task, he learns the truth of his great-grandfather's death--hence there you have the story.

There wasn't much to it other than that, and plenty of words that intertwined with each other, but didn't quite connect in the way I like a book to make me feel. It wasn't a God-awful read, but it wasn't the best, and I hurried to finish because I couldn't take it anymore. This story was a bit of a let down for me, but again, this is how it left me. Maybe others won't feel the same.

Profile Image for Dree.
1,617 reviews48 followers
October 28, 2011
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 Jack is a fairy tale--though perhaps the point is that they met immediately after she has sent her son to her stepmother for a proper childhood. But why not bring him home to her good new life after she is settled? This was not effectively explained for me. At all. And given how settled she and Jack were, I was shocked at how easily adult Rayne let her back into his life. This simply doesn't ring true. And it's not, it's fiction, but I am not a fan of fantasy.

I was also a bit confused by the family tree in the font of the book. There are so many people (Amos' branch) that are never mentioned in the story. I also think there are a couple of times in the story that Jewell and Rayne's relationships to Rome are incorrect per the tree--he was Jewell's great great grandfather, Rayne's 3g grandfather. But I believe the text calls him Jewell's great grandfather. I wish I could find the page.

An interesting story and quick read, worth it for the introduction to Heir Laws alone. A good strong honest kind black male character in Rayne--something I don't see as often as I'd like in literature. A wonderful believable character in Selma. And I felt the author did a great job with King--she made him come alive when even Rayne had never known him.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
117 reviews4 followers
October 26, 2011
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. Racism, family intricacies and love plays itself out though the whole of the touching story.

This book starts of VERY slow. So slow that I quit reading this book to start another one. Once the plot opens to the heir property situation the story snowballs into action. The only gripe I had about the book is that sometimes it was hard to know from whose point of view I was reading. The thing I loved most about the book was the family tree placed at the beginning. I needed to refer back to that A LOT. Overall I give this book 3 stars.
Profile Image for Polly.
18 reviews
September 13, 2011
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 missing crucial information... As events unfolded I gained insight into the family history which mirrored the protagonist, Rayne's, experience. I presume this was intentional by the author...this device worked in many ways but could have been further developed to make it more effective. Sometimes I felt just plain lost...like I missed a chapter altogether.

The book is a testament to the power of family (adopted or blood), painful history, the scars we carry and how - through bringing the pains to light - they make us stronger.
Profile Image for Iejones.
63 reviews3 followers
October 21, 2011
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 inheritance and true love come through and made me question my own legacy, inheritance and sense of family. Overall, a stimulating read - with humor, wit, a little sex and bit too much cussin'.
35 reviews2 followers
June 6, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Continualknowledge.
124 reviews2 followers
November 12, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Dee.
90 reviews5 followers
September 7, 2018
With a scattered family setting the tone, this book begins on a foggy morning in West Philadelphia, raising questions of the family circumstance that led the characters to this moment. I read so little fiction that this book caught me off guard with its characters. The way they compliment and bounce off each other often reminded me of moments with my own friends and family. At times laughing, others in tears, I followed this family's path to reunion. Super glad I'm visiting my family soon, because this book made me miss being in the country under the warm blanket of cicadas and bullfrogs welcoming the night.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lauren.
1,025 reviews91 followers
August 11, 2011
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) were three-dimensional as well as thoroughly well developed. I especially enjoyed how Lorene switched between their POVs because it gave me a look into three very different yet interesting viewpoints: a widow who still trying to bring her family together after all these years, a mother's last chance to reconnect with the son she gave away all those years ago, and a young man who's left up to pick of the pieces his family left behind. All three were presented in the kind of way I love to see characters: likable and easy to root for yet still flawed. The other characters involved, such as Rayne's girlfriend and the rest of the Needham family, were just as interesting, but I have to say I would have loved to see a bit more development into each.

The plot in this one was based on lots of secrets, drama, and introspection.What I enjoyed most about it, though, was the different pieces of history I learned throughout the book through flashbacks and the characters own experiences. It ended up creating an interesting atmosphere to say the least.

However, as I mentioned above, I did have a few small problems with If Sons, Then Heirs. For one, I felt that even with the interesting characters and plot lines, this book tended to move at snail like speed at times. I love a book that's thoroughly developed, but sometimes less is more, and in this book's case, I think that would have rung true. I also didn't like how everything towards the end was wrapped up so quickly and nicely so to say. In relation to the rest of the book's speed, it was very quick, even though this was the part of the book I felt should have been a bit slower.

In all, If Sons, Then Heirs was still an interesting novel regardless, one that even leaves the reader with a bit too think about it, and even though the speed of the book did bring it down a few points, it's still worth a read for any person who enjoys a bit of history and character introspection in their books.

Grade: C+
Profile Image for Nicholas.
Author 7 books74 followers
March 29, 2012
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 wills or those wills aren't properly probated and some people just stay on the land out of custom, while other heirs move away. Sometimes, and in the case of this novel, poor and elderly African American Southerners run the risk of being evicted from the land when one share-owner forces a sale and the occupant can't come up with the money to buy out the other stakeholders. I thought all this sounded fascinating in the review. And it was. (I like history, genealogy, and the law; this was right up my alley.)

It took me a while to get into (about 100 pages) but I was definitely absorbed by the end. What was more difficult was that the novel has so many characters that it can be a little overwhelming. There is a family tree in the front and even that doesn't sort out all the complications. Some of the stories inevitably get more play than others and that's a shame for a couple of them. My one more substantive objection is that sometimes it felt like Cary is pretty self-consciously trying to write a "black novel." Many of the characters talk in incomplete sentences and instead of writing "I'm going to the store," Cary will write "I'ma go the store." Of course no one, of any race, speaks in complete sentences all the time. Or pronounces all the syllables of every word properly. Feb. Ru. Ary. It just doesn't happen. We all speak quickly and mash things together. And yet most novelists write the words as the words themselves are spelled; it's a conceit that makes it easy for readers. I'm sure that Cary thinks she's making her characters more "authentic" by writing their dialogue in this way, but I just found it really distracting and kind of irritating by the end.
310 reviews
June 14, 2012
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 ago and is now dealing with her dying husband; the son (now an adult) struggling with his relationship with his girl friend and her 7 year old son by another man; the past and present politics of South Carolina; the biased, antiquated land laws of South Carolina which make it easy to strip African American families of their land holdings; extended family members scattered over the eastern USA who barely know each other but each of whom can affect what happens to land; and at the center of it all, King, the almost mythic patriarch who died many years before the story takes place and whose "ghost" seems to be everywhere. All of this gets played out in 300 pages of text. I found the story interesting and parts of it moving, but in the end there are too many plot lines and too many people. The land laws of South Carolina are very arcane and I never understood exactly how they are supposed to work. To tell such a complex story in a condensed setting, Cary uses story devices that didn't work for me. I found the resolution at the end of the book too neat and unrealistic. All of this not withstanding, I enjoyed the book and felt that as a work of fiction, it captures some of the essence of other (non-fiction) books focused on 20th century African American experience, such as the Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.
Profile Image for Revae.
175 reviews11 followers
November 18, 2011
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 selling the land is not as simple as it seems with the heir property and the leases and loans taken out on the other parts of the land. If Sons, The Heirs tells the story of how the Needham family, who have grown apart over the years, band together to save the land that their ancestor, King Needham fought to keep.
I had greater expectations for this book. There were story lines that were underdeveloped, ie Lillie and Rayne's relationship and Jewell and Rayne's reunion. Majority of the book detailed, unnecessarily, how Rayne could obtain the land and his fishing expedition on who owned what. For the first 200 pages, it seemed as if there was no plot. Then in the last 100 pages of the book, everything picked up. This is when the family bands together, Rayne and his mother finally meet, and things actually happen. The book had an inspiring message about keeping land in the family, but there must have been a better way to tell it.
244 reviews
April 7, 2018
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 care for one another in their own ways, to the best of their individual abilities. There is a love story, an endearing child, a proud and strong matriarch. There is also much to learn about the hurdles faced by African Americans when it comes to acquiring and keeping property, as well as some background regarding the Great Migration and how all of that impacted one family. There is trouble, but there is also joy.
136 reviews20 followers
May 21, 2011
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 help. Rayne's in his early thirties and owns a small construction company. Lillie his girlfriend has a seven year old son named, Kahlil.

This is a gorgeous story about a family, blending the past and present. One of the stories many strengths is character development and their complex relationships I loved losing myself in this families saga.

Profile Image for Adrienna.
Author 17 books231 followers
October 25, 2011
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 property they all had to accept and deal with; love the comment "rootless children, floating around like Needhams would..." (page 219). Page 220 speaks about half this and that, and other aspects in the book pointed out in the reading.

*Reading this for a Goodreads Book Club Read (LFPC: Literary Fiction for People of Color).

2stars, okay read for me.
3 reviews2 followers
July 27, 2012
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 the supernatural that come out of nowhere and are neither developed, nor woven into the story. This book was disappointing because the premise is actually interesting. I do think there is an interesting story here to tell – on the subject of African American families and land ownership. This book, unfortunately, did not deliver.
Profile Image for Lucy Montgomery.
284 reviews2 followers
July 28, 2012
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 the cost of leaving behind family and traditions -- has great potential for a meaningful and profound description, but I did not find it here. The book's saving grace is that Ms. Cary is a talented writer and her prose is beautifully composed.
Profile Image for Catherine.
116 reviews2 followers
August 10, 2017
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 farm is in dire constraints and Rayne has to find a way to save it before it is too late. It had slow parts in the begining, but picked up in the middle. I give it four stars because it ultimately was a good story, it just felt like it took a while to get there.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
193 reviews
October 20, 2011
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 gives a new view of the struggle of slaves, land,and landowners. I am glad this was selected to read.
Profile Image for U. Teresa .
85 reviews
July 17, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Carrie.
128 reviews4 followers
August 12, 2013
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.
34 reviews
March 29, 2012
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.
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