The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd
Set in South Carolina in the early 1700s, this novel imagines the life of Eliza Lucas, a sixteen year old girl whose father leaves her in charge of the family’s three plantations when he returns to Antigua to pursue his military ambitions. Eliza’s awareness of the price that French consumers are willing to pay for indigo leads her to believe that it might be worth cultivating, but no one knows the secrets to producing indigo dye and other attempts in the United States have been unsuccessful.
The author, Natasha Boyd, was inspired to write the book by a chance conversation she overheard at an art gallery in South Carolina that featured artists who were inspired by indigo. The owner of the gallery was talking about Eliza Lucas, and how she had taught her slaves to read in exchange for their assistance in teaching her the secrets of making indigo. Once Boyd began to learn about Lucas’ life, she was inspired to write the novel.
This book is an inspiring imagining of the life of one of America’s first female entrepreneurs, a woman who was so respected by the time of her death that George Washington was a pallbearer at her funeral. Natasha Boyd has written a story in part to make certain that the story of Eliza Lucas, and her determination, is never forgotten.
Marlena by Julie Buntin
Set in rural Michigan, this story of female friendship’s intensity was compelling and dark. Switching between past and present, the story is told by Cat, who has settled into a comfortable life in New York City when she hears from Sal, the younger brother of her old friend & neighbor, Marlena. The story then moves back and forth between her present life in New York and her teenage years in Michigan, where Marlena and Cat’s fast friendship ends abruptly when Marlena dies tragically as a consequence of her burgeoning addictions. Cat narrates the past and the present with equal intensity, trying to make sense of what this friendship meant to her and to how it feels to be the person who is left alive.
Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times Edited by Carolina De Robertis
Carolina De Robertis responded to her own despair at the results of the 2016 election by eliciting love letters from writer friends in response to the present moment. Her epigraph to the book is a quote from Toni Morrison, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work.…We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” It is organized into three sections: roots, branches & seeds…and because each letter stands alone as a work in itself, you can pop in and out of it without feeling like you are missing something. The collection includes letters by Junot Diaz, Jane Smiley, and Claire Messud.
What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells their Stories by Laura Shapiro
As a fan of food and books, and a fan of books about food, this book caught my attention right away. My grandmother kept elaborate diary entries that were almost entirely lists of what she ate, and would revisit them from time to time, reveling in the flavorful memories. So Laura Shapiro’s book, which takes the reader on an edible journey through the foods and lives of six women through their eating habits, is a delight. Here we find Eleanor Roosevelt’s cooking scrambled eggs for company and Helen Gurley Brown’s gorging on sugar free diet jello. Everybody eats, but how and where and when they eat can tell us about their habits, enthusiasms, and hungers. I greedily devoured this book.