Book Review│Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

cover174871-mediumAfia Atakora’s Conjure Women is a richly detailed narrative that takes us back to the pre and post Civil War South through the eyes of Miss May Belle and her daughter, Miss Rue. The chapters alternate viewpoints between the two women to showcase how different and still yet similar life is for women of color in the South during and after the war when freedom really didn’t mean that these women were in fact free.

For Miss May Belle, it is 1854. She is a practicing midwife and conjurer. Her special talents give her a life with benefits that she wouldn’t have had other wise or as she puts it,  “Hoodoo is black folks currency.” Other slaves seek her out for help and at times, so do the wealthy white men who are too embarrassed by an ailment to seek out a doctor. Rue is young and growing up under Miss May Belle’s watchful eyes, learning her secrets and seeing first hand what conjuring can do to a person’s body and soul.

The two live in a large plantation owned by the prosperous Marse Charles and his daughter, Varina. His young daughter becomes a playmate for Rue who is eager to act out her rebellions which usually ends in punishment for Rue. Miss May Belle knows that her talents afford her freedoms, but that she is still a slave and as such must adhere to the unspoken rules of the white-men who control her life. She makes sure Rue learns her place while learning the ways of hoodoo and conjuring to ensure that Rue keeps her place with Marse Charles long after she is gone.

For Rue, it is 1867 and the war is over. Her mother is long gone and she has taken over the hoodooing that Miss May Belle had abandoned after a horrific tragedy. Rue is intimately involved in many of the townspeople’s lives as she has delivered every baby since the war. When a fair skinned, black eyed child is born the town views the arrival more as a curse than a blessing and the praise they used to give Rue turns to criticism as suspicion begins to swirl. Suspicion is only heightened with the arrival of a preacher to town who is bent on ruining Rue because the bible marks her as impure and evil with her hoodoo and magic. However, is the preacher all that pure and truthful himself? Rue’s story is filled with suspicion and conniving scheming that fuels much of the conflict in her story.

Fear overtakes the town and trust is lost. Rue is overwhelmed by the burden of the secrets and magic that she carries. Will she ever truly be free or will she be forever bartering for other people’s well-being while sacrificing her own? Ultimately, what is the price of her freedom?

Afia Atakora’s Conjure Women is a fantastic debut novel that makes Atakora an author to watch. Her poetic prose and use of magical realism make the details of this novel come to life. You become immersed in her world–a fantastic read that brings the world of slavery and life before reconstruction to life.

Book Information

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2020 from Random House Publishing with ISBN 9780525511489. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home│Are you fearful of another pregnancy?

My husband and I do not hide the fact that if God allows it, we would like to have four kids. I would like two of each because I think the idea of everyone having a brother and a sister. However, I really don’t care either way as long as I get one of each in this mix.

I was very blessed to conceive our son easily. I had been convinced that it would take us a while and that I would probably have fertility issues. After we visited our doctor, we were told to go home and try for a year before they intervened. I immediately hit the books and from there ordered my pre-natal vitamins and ovulation kits and downloaded a log to keep track of my cycles. I was determined. I also followed every forum and app on TTC I could find and read daily how and when in cycles women were actually conceiving.

meandlogan
One of our first pictures together. August 2018.

I was a bit obsessed, but deep within myself, I had always wanted to be a mother. However, I have also always been very career and academically driven and for years that was my sole focus. I laugh at myself now for thinking that I would go back to work a month after having delivered our son. I also laugh at a conversation that I had with my husband when we first started dating. I flat out told him that I would never give up my career or my dreams for any man nor would I move for one. Which is funny because, in the end, I moved for my husband so that he could finish school and now, I am constantly applying to jobs that I can do closer to home or even remotely so that I can be home with our son. My husband constantly likes to remind me about that conversation and how it’s so funny that this little man entered my life and I am just wrapped around his finger. And it’s true, Logan is the boss of my life now and if it doesn’t benefit him, I don’t do it. Everyone was floored when I took an actual spring break this year and have planned to do the same for summer. I haven’t actually had a true summer since I graduated from Rutgers. I can’t count my first summer with Phil because while backpacking through Europe was definitely a summer, it too was a lot of work. This will be the first summer where I will have no work, no deadlines just an endless amount of time with my baby.

Which has led us to the serious questions of when we want to expand our family again. Since we did not start our family when I was in my 20’s, I know that I do not have much time to finish building our family either. I think by 36, you’re already considered geriatric when it comes to pregnancy. It made me realize how scared I was to get pregnant again. With Logan, my pregnancy was uncomplicated other than being sick every day with him and in the end, I only gained 10 pounds and after deilvery, I wound up losing almost 50 within the first months of being home. My delivery was complicated. I was 42 weeks pregnant and induced for two days. We developed an infection on the morning of the 3rd day and I was rushed in for an emergency c-section where I got to meet the most perfect little boy.

We had 3 days together in the hospital and just as they were about to discharge me, my blood pressure shot through the roof and I was diagnosed with postpartum pre-eclampsia which affects 1 in 600 pregnancies. I had never even heard of that. I spent the next day being infused with magnesium sulfite and dealing with the craziest bunch of nurses I had ever dealt with. They had me on hefty drugs for the c-section, but when I developed a headache from lack of sleep, the magnesium and I am sure the overall stress, I had a nurse get into a fight with me over it. It was just such a whacky experience and we had driven 45 minutes to deliver at that hospital because in New Jersey it is known as THE baby hospital. I was so unimpressed. And the real kicker, the epidural? Didn’t even work! I felt it ALL.

I have been scared of and distant from my husband for months because I was terrified of going through all of that again. It’s taken me a while to even think that at some point I would like to have another baby to grow our family. I think this time though, I would find a midwife that specializes in VBAC and home birth because I never want to go through a c-section again nor do I want to deal with that hospital or any hospital for that matter unless I absolutely have to. I think all of the medical interventions that I believed in for my first pregnancy contributed to my difficult delivery and if God does bless us with another (or three more children), I definitely will not be repeating my first birth experience.