Title: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree
Author: Ann Weisgarber
Release date: July 26, 2011
Genre: Historical fiction
Format: ARC (paperback)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 5 out of 5
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Rachel DuPree is tired. Her five living children are hungry and thirsty, and the baby due any day will add another weight to Rachel’s already overburdened shoulders. The DuPrees have scraped through the long summer drought with dreams of cool drinking water and full bellies, and Rachel is sick with a feeling of failure; she has failed to provide for her family, and she has failed to tame the wild lands that she and her husband, Isaac, claimed fourteen years ago.
Isaac remains persistently cheerful, but his dependence on Rachel and the children alarms her. When Isaac decides to lower Liz, their six-year-old daughter, down to scrape the dregs of water from a dry well, Rachel senses an irreparable rupture in their marriage. Isaac, so intent on proving that he will be a successful rancher despite his background and his race, never seems to notice that his ambition is tearing apart the family. “I had aimed for a man with ambition, and I had gotten him,” Rachel reflects. “It happened because I had closed my mind to the idea that an ambitious man cared mostly about what he wanted.”
When Isaac announces that he will be leaving them alone in the harsh winter of South Dakota’s Badlands so that he can work in a mine to afford more land, Rachel is faced with the most difficult decision of her life. Will she stay with the man she has loved since she first set eyes on him, or will she give back to their children the childhood that is slipping from their grasp?
I grew up loving pioneer stories, from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Janette Oke to Willa Cather. The freedom promised by the solitary plains tempted me as a young girl surrounded by siblings, and the ambition and willpower it took homesteaders to eke out a living on the wild prairie inspired me to aim for the impossible as well.
That is why I was so pleased to read The Personal History of Rachel DuPree. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. This is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and a welcome addition to my collection of well-loved pioneer stories.
This book covers so much ground: race, class, women’s rights, war. It’s as though Little House on the Prairie grew up and developed a racially and culturally aware conscience. African-American homesteaders are rare enough in pioneer literature, but Weisgarber doesn’t stop with the inevitable racial tension that follows the DuPrees; she places these pioneers in the tumultuous years leading up to World War II, when African-Americans flooded cities and race riots ensued.
Weisgarber adds a further level of complexity by mixing in the uneasy status of Native Americans, whom Isaac DuPree detests but who help Rachel in her greatest hour of need. As if that’s not enough, Weisgarber centers the tale around a woman’s decision to stand up to an insensitive and overly ambitious husband–not an easy thing for a barely literate African-American rancher’s wife in the early twentieth century to do.
Rachel struggles, in the story, with summoning the strength to survive the harsh summer and coming winter; to care for her children, both born and unborn; and to preserve a marriage built on ambitious expectation. She struggles to reconcile her dreams for her life and the reality that she is given. Ultimately, she finds the strength to do the right thing. It’s probably not what Willa Cather or Laura Ingalls Wilder would have done… and that’s why Rachel’s story is so riveting.
Rachel is a well-developed character, riven but not paralyzed by a decision that will change her life and the lives of her children. She is personable, and her voice feels authentic. The book’s layers of complexity unfold with perfect pacing, and the book never misses a step. In case you didn’t notice, I highly recommend it!
November 1: nomadreader
November 2: Peeking Between the Pages
November 3: Linus’s Blanket – author Q&A
November 7: A Bookish Libraria
November 8: Man of La Book
November 10: Unabridged Chick
November 14: Book Dilettante
November 15: Book Chatter
November 16: She is Too Fond of Books – guest post
November 17: Book Club Classics
November 21: Raging Bibliomania
November 23: Historical Tapestry – author guest post
November 23: Broken Teepee
November 25: Historical Tapestry
November 28: A Bookworm’s World
November 30: Elle Lit
December 5: Book Snob
December 7: Life in Review
December 8: The 3 R’s Blog
December 12: The Brain Lair
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