Conjure Women is a tale of intertwined lives that is masterfully wrapped around a secure understanding of history. So many tales and experiences are told through one voice, which makes this story rich and heady.
Title: Conjure Women
Author: Afia Atakora
Publisher: Random House/4th Estate
Publication Date: 7th April 2020
Somehow this book manages to tie together the ends of a sweeping story that encompasses the experiences of different women during the time of slavery in the Deep South, as well as how communities adapted afterwards to ‘freedom’ following the Civil War.
There is so much rich detail in this novel, as each character’s knowledge, life and experience forms part of a tapestry of lives that are artfully drawn together under a backdrop of superstition.
This novel largely focuses on Rue, who has inherited the responsibility of being healer for her small community of ex-slaves from her strong-spirited and powerful mother, Miss May Belle. Rue understands that although healing itself is natural, much of what she does can be tied up in curses, in the land around her and in what she has inherited from her mother.
Bound together with Rue are the stories of May Belle and of Varina, the Master’s daughter, who sees Rue as plaything, companion and object.
This a community full of secrets as they struggle to survive before and after the Civil War, as well as the secrets that they now hold that tie them all together.
What was a pleasure to read, alongside the strong clear voices of the characters, who take action in the only ways they know how, are the images and details of the natural world around the community. Quite rightfully, these aren’t always explained or justified – they are just there for the reader in order to immerse you further in this harsh, warm and no-nonsense world.
Sometimes the build-up to an ending can feel forced, the reader spotting what’s going to happen long before it does, because that’s the way that stories work. Instead, here, even if you knew what was likely, there was still so much more detail to the outcome that it felt more like a tale being told, than one being made.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.