Amanda Skenandore comes to the blog with a historic tale, set in reconstruction-era New Orleans with
The Undertaker’s Assistant
Effie Jones was found “somewhere new New Orleans” when she was “about 7 or 8” by a Union surgeon. Brought up north and made a ward of the couple, she was educated and brought into the new undertaking business as an assistant. Now, she’s headed back to New Orleans and is working for another former Army man who owns a funeral home: the home in decline because of his alcoholism and the fact he didn’t join the confederacy has been hard on business. Now with Effie, efficient, cold and seemingly unemotional, he’s got an able assistant, and one who will work to do the best job she can for the dead she cares for.
Starting out, this book felt as if Effie was shallow and keeping us at a distance, but in reality she had no memories of her early life, parents or family, and only a few random dream-images and flashes of familiarity bring her any knowledge of herself. She’d done all that was asked of her by her guardians, but the little things: school, friendship, emotion were all not important. Effie is awkward socially, prone to blurting out the truth or questions as she thinks of them, and not having a sense of family or self have her constantly questioning love, family ties and connections.
While the story carries a tone that is darker than most, it is the history, accurate portrayals of challenges and choices that Effie makes as she comes to understand who she is, was and where she wants to find herself. The tumult of the reconstruction era, along with the fears and dangers it provided when added to this very real person in Effie – even as she puzzles out the meaning of social interactions, restrictions and prejudices was lovely. She is palpable and so vulnerable – naïve and unknowing, cautious and too trusting, yet wholly engaging when pieces of her past (and new challenges) have her realigning her own attitude and desires with the knowledge gained. This was a favorite read – I couldn’t put it down and just had to know if things changed for her, and if she found solace in answers that will allow her to ask and answer ever more difficult questions.
Title: The Undertaker's Assistant
Author: Amanda Skenandore
Genre: African-American, Family Saga, Grief, Historic Elements, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural, Reconstruction Era, Romantic Elements, Setting: American, Slavery, Sociological Relevancy
Published by: Kensington
Published on: 30 July, 2019
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, and with an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart, The Undertaker's Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience--and of the unlikely bonds that hold fast even in our darkest moments.
"The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies--and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer's shortcomings.
Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters--with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline--introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: