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Conjure Women by Afia Atakoro

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Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
UK Publication Date: 7th April 2020
Reviewed by: Book Worm  and/or Jen
Rating: [★★★★]

This ARC was provided by 4th Estate (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Welcome to the South..

Synopsis from Goodreads: A mother and daughter with a shared talent for healing–and for the conjuring of curses–are at the heart of this dazzling first novel

Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.

Magnificently written, brilliantly researched, richly imagined, Conjure Women moves back and forth in time to tell the haunting story of Rue, Varina, and May Belle, their passions and friendships, and the lengths they will go to save themselves and those they love.

Bookworm’s Thoughts: This is another amazingly strong debut novel from a very talented author. As an aside I am loving the current trend for covers with dark backgrounds and colourful images, so eye catching and pretty.

While this is a story set in the South in the time just before and after the civil war and while the main characters are slaves or “Marse” this is not a story about slavery (at least not directly) instead it is a story about women and the complex relationships that exist between them.

The story moves backwards and forwards in time. We hear from Miss May Belle in the war years and her daughter Rue in the years that follow the emancipation of the slaves. Caught up in both time frames is Varina the daughter of Marse Charles the slave owner. While Varina is the same age as Rue her life is completely different however that doesn’t stop her adopting Rue as a play mate leading to tragic consequences, especially because Rue as a slave has little say in the friendship and cannot go against the wishes of her “friend”.

Magical realism plays a role in the form of hoodoo which May Belle is gifted with. Her hoodoo curses appear to work and when she uses the conjure for good she is a force to be reckoned with. The most powerful magic Rue and her mother share however is the ability to heal, the ability to understand the needs of other women without them having to speak and the ability to provide reassurance and comfort in times of trouble. I really enjoyed the day to day descriptions of healing and curse making.

As we move between time frames a comprehensive view of the horrors of slavery and the dangers of liberty is built up. While the actions of the “Marse” are not dwelt upon they are there hovering at the back of every action the women take. Things that happen in “Slavetime” reverberate all the way forward to “Freedomtime” and actions taken in “Freedomtime” have their roots in “Slavetime” even if this is not obvious at first glance.

My favourite quotes:

“Varina and Rue, they were bound to their roles, and always had been, Rue figured, by something stronger than curse and conjure – simply, they’d been raised to be the women they had become.”

“Men were not trees, she knew, black men especially; it had always been dangerous for them to take root.”

Who would like this? I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about strong women and their relationships.

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

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