The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns
This poignant tale of honour and racism, based on real-life cases of infanticide and abandonment of babies whose eyes were the wrong colour and skin too light, is interspersed with the contemporary strand about an American woman travelling to Japan to investigate her father’s past. This device, with a character uncovering a family secret on the death of a parent, is reminiscent of Madeleine Bunting’s Island Song, and various other novels that don’t so readily come to mind. In most cases, and certainly in this, I’m much more interested in the historical narrative and find the bereaved daughter’s quest weakens the book. Ana Johns’ writing style verges on the melodramatic, so not for me, but seems to have done well on its release earlier this year in the US. Thanks to Legend Press for my review copy.
Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
Sitting at his bedside in the rundown hospital, Spring relates the story of his origins, and hers. It starts with Ella, a feisty eleven-year-old from a free black family in Pennsylvania, abducted on her way home from church and transported to a Maryland plantation. She’s been brought in for ‘breeding’ purposes: Walker needs more workers but no babies have survived there since Agnes, now fourteen.
While Ella suffers numerous cruelties, including rape, Agnes’ foster mother, along with a coterie of other women, attempts to moderate the damage. But there’s no easy way of preventing more children being born into slavery: what Walker knows as ‘the curse’ is a meticulously orchestrated system of infanticide, suicide and poisonous herbs used as contraception. Nevertheless, both girls become pregnant, one to the girl who will go on to give birth to Edward, on the night they discover they’re free.
This familiar story of institutionalised injustice is given a fresh slant in Yvonne Battle-Felton’s focus on motherhood and the women’s determination to claw back a shred of autonomy within lives bounded by bigots’ whims. Structured around (genuine?) newspaper clippings from the era, with a distinctive voice, I welcomed the subtlety, despite still being unsure as to Edward’s exact motivation at the end. But there’s a strong thread of righteous anger; sometimes protest is the only sane response. Thanks to publishers Dialogue for my review copy.
My flash fiction piece “Return to Paradise”, published by Foliate Oak, also explores plantation life, this time from the perspective of a slave-owner’s son.
If you need something cheery after this heavy stuff, let me invite you on a virtual visit to our gorgeous garden meadows.