Having not read The Widow of the South, I was concerned that I may have difficulty following along with The Orphan Mother. Thankfully, it is easily read as a stand-alone novel and I’m now inspired to read The Widow of the South.
Mariah Reddick is the former slave to Carrie McGavock. Since becoming a free woman, she has established herself as a competent and respected midwife to the women of Franklin, Tennessee. Her grown son, Theopolis, is a cobbler with political aspirations.
“Theopolis had told her it gave him comfort to think that he, a Negro, might soon be sitting in the legislature with his feet up on the rail and voting according to his own instincts and philosophies.”
Though the Civil War is over, racial prejudices violent crimes against former slaves and free black men and women, especially those who rocked the political boat, are widely and publicly tolerated, condoned, and even encouraged by the men to whom they become a threat. When Theopolis tells Mariah he is going to give a speech in the town square, Mariah is fearful that Theopolis will fall victim to these men as a result of his courage and bravery. Her worst fears are realized as Theopolis is murdered before he has the opportunity to address the crowd. In the mayhem and chaos, a white grocer is also killed.
The Army is sending troops to keep the peace and investigate the events of the day. But as Mariah comes to the realization that they are being sent primarily to investigate the death of the grocer, she become singularly focused on finding her son’s killer/s on her own.
“”I will find out. I ain’t gone stop’. Mariah had not known this until she said it. But now she knew she would go on just as she formed the words.”
Along the way, Mariah becomes close with a man named George Tole. ‘Tole’ is new in town and has a difficult and troubled past. Tole is broken man; he’s seen and done more than he can cope with in the war and has turned to the bottle for consolation. He is now doing his best to become a better man. As the two grow closer, we begin to understand them on a deeper level.
Robert Hicks has written a book that beautifully illustrates the strength a mother is able to summon in the name of avenging her child’s murder. Mariah is a force. She does not have time to indulge in her grief. She’s a woman on a mission.
There were times in this book when I, expectedly, felt saddened, angry, and ashamed at the culture of racial prejudice and violence. However, I found the overall messages of strength, dignity, and perseverance to be encouraging.
At its heart, this is a book about love, loss, and coming to terms with the truth. I was especially touched by the epilogue. I think Theopolis would have been very proud of his mother.
Many thanks to Grand Central Publishing for proving a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.