• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

War is over but family finds the fight goes on

The end of the American Civil War, and the subsequent abolition of slavery, radically altered the economic landscape of the Southern states.

Bradley Greenburg's debut novel tells the story of the fictional McGhees, a black family who decide their best hope for a decent future is to move out of the South entirely.

Scouting ahead, the father, James, finds what he hopes will be a conducive spot in Tippecanoe County, Indiana (where the author grew up), and uses his savings to buy a farm there. Over the next few years, the McGhees sweat blood to reconstruct the derelict buildings and turn their land into a working farm. They also try to keep a low profile but, even though Indiana is a less hostile state than the one they have left behind, James has made enemies among the town's ruling elite who would be happy to drive them out.

After a terrifying welcome to the county, it is only a matter of time before certain elements among the townspeople will agitate to bring violence to the McGhee household once more. By this time, James's oldest child, the book-loving Clayton, has inherited the farm, and finds that old grievances can simmer away for decades before resurfacing. At the same time, Henderson Jeffries, a rich white boy from the smart side of town, discovers that following in his father's footsteps has a very unsavoury side.

The changed focus in the second half of the book, which involves bringing in the prosperous white Jeffries family and diminishing Clayton's presence, does not altogether work. Nevertheless, it is an interesting study of race relations in post-Civil War America, fittingly taking place in a setting sandwiched between the former slave state of Kentucky and, to the north, Michigan, which in later years would come to be one of the centres of African-American culture.

Set at a time when race relations were particularly complicated, in that they were still being negotiated after the abolition of slavery, it shows us an America that does not know what kind of country it is going to be in the future, and how factors like loyalty, privilege, fear and pressure to conform all played their part.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

241909