The Orphan Mother book review

The Orphan Mother Book Review

What is this about?: Less about Mariah’s investigation into her son’s death and more about her journey to come to terms with her grief.

What else is this about?: George Tole, an assassin, who witnesses Theopolis’ death and falls in love with Mariah. It is for her (and okay, himself) that he exacts revenge on the men that killed Theopolis, weaving his death into a larger politically motivated story.

Stars: 3/5

Should you read: The blurb of this book is terribly misleading, but the story that is told has a different sort of power to the revenge and justice the blurb promises.

Blurb: An epic account of one remarkable woman’s quest for justice from the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country.

In the years following the Civil War, Mariah Reddick, former slave to Carrie McGavock–the “Widow of the South”–has quietly built a new life for herself as a midwife to the women of Franklin, Tennessee. But when her ambitious, politically-minded grown son, Theopolis, is murdered, Mariah–no stranger to loss–finds her world once more breaking apart. How could this happen? Who wanted him dead? Mariah’s journey to uncover the truth leads her to unexpected people–including George Tole, a recent arrival to town, fleeing a difficult past of his own–and forces her to confront the truths of her own past. Brimming with the vivid prose and historical research that has won Robert Hicks recognition as a “master storyteller” (San Francisco Chronicle)

I recommended this earlier this year because of, quite simply, Mariah. To me, the blurb promised a woman who would search for the truth no matter what, but I had forgotten to consider the time in which it takes place — there is no action or investigation to be had by woman, never mind an African American woman and former slave.

Mariah is a strong, determined woman and an accomplished mid-wife in her town. She has helped women give birth for years, successfully saving babies even if their racist fathers would like to forget that — the mothers though, they remember. When the book opens, her son, Theopolis, is murdered and so begins her search for justice.

Except: George Tole. George is a killer, hired to assassinate someone at a gathering when he inadvertently witnesses Theopolis’s murder. It is his story that robs Mariah of her journey to uncover the truth behind Theopolis’s death. Their investigations run parallel to each other, but by virtue of him knowing more, his is the more interesting one. Mariah is a fierce woman, with a commanding presence in every moment in the book, but Tole’s presence and actions undermine her at every turn, even if she sort of finds out the same things he does.

Mariah’s story is about coming to terms with grief, of motherhood — which trumps everything in the story, even racist husbands of the women who tell her what truth they can to help her find out who killed Theopolis. In the end, her journey consists of bringing the ring leader to a sort of public justice, before again Tole actually has the more interesting role in bringing the ring leader to a different sort of justice.

The Orphan Mother‘s blurb is in actuality far more exciting than the politics and race of the book unfortunately, but it is an emotional read that stayed with me long after I had finished. 

Have you ever gone into a book expecting something from the blurb, but getting something else entirely? Do you mind when that happens?


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