by J. California Cooper
Set in the South in the waning years of the Civil War, this is the dramatic story of a remarkable heroine, Lifee, and her husband, Mor. When Emancipation finally comes to Texas, Mor, Lifee, and their family set out in search of hope and a piece of land they can work and call their own. Miraculously, they manage not only to survive, but to succeed - their crops grow, their children thrive, they educate themselves and others. But the South during Reconstruction is not a place that takes kindly to the achievements of former slaves, and as lynchings and injustice become a plague across the region, time and again they must make the anguished decision to leave their land in search of a safer place.
A dramatic and thought-provoking novel of one family's triumph in the face of the hardships and challenges of the post-Civil War South.
The Wake of the Wind, J. California Cooper's third novel, is her most penetrating look yet at the challenges that generations of African Americans have had to overcome in order to carve out a home for themselves and their families. Set in Texas in the waning years of the Civil War, the novel tells the dramatic story of a remarkable heroine, Lifee, and her husband, Mor. When Emancipation finally comes to Texas, Mor, Lifee, and the extended family they create from other slaves who are also looking for a home and a future, set out in search of a piece of land they can call their own. In the face of constant threats, they manage not only to survive but to succeed--their crops grow, their children thrive, they educate themselves and others. Lifee and Mor pass their intelligence, determination, and talents along to their children, the next generation to surge forward. At once tragic and triumphant, this is an epic story that captures with extraordinary authenticity the most important struggle of the last hundred years.
Cooper's disappointing third novel (after Family) frustrates readers with a good premise poorly executed. Mordecai and Lifee meet as slaves on a plantation in post-Civil War Texas. Forced to marry by their master before they even know each other, they fall in love just as emancipation is declared, and head east with several other newly freed companions to look for a safe place to live. Cooper conveys the mixture of hope, fear and confusion as hungry and footsore former slaves move across the country. Mor and Lifee find work at a ruined plantation in Georgia and begin a family; and in time, the owner secretly sells her property to them. The tightly knit clan of former slaves prospers, but when lynchings in the area become frequent, they are forced to leave. Eventually they settle on an abandoned farm, where they survive economic depression and other troubles. When tragedy ensues, the next generation must assume responsibility for preserving the family. Though Cooper's research about the troubled historical era provides good details, her characters are mainly two-dimensional stereotypes. The blacks are good, with pure hearts; the whites (with one exception) are duplicitous. Moreover, the prose is wooden and preachy, lacking grace or nuance. This earnest saga of freed slaves aspiring to new lives in the Reconstruction South is commendable in intent but pedestrian in execution. (Sept.)
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J. California Cooper is the author of the novels Family and In Search of Satisfaction and five collections of short stories, including Homemade Love, winner of the 1989 American Book Award, and Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime. She is also the author of severnteen plays and has been honored as Black Playwright of the Year (1978), received the James Baldwin Writing Award (1988), and the Literary Lion Award from the American Librarby Association (1988). She lives in Gualala, California.
Paperback: 384 pages