Monday, October 25, 2010

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

In Ann Weisgarber's historical fiction novel, Rachel DuPree, an African American homesteader/rancher in South Dakota's Badlands recounts her life story. From her childhood in Chicago to working in her mother in law's boarding house where she met her husband, Isaac, Rachel 's story includes not only her remembrances of the past, but what is happening to her as her story is revealed. She is awaiting the birth of her eighth child with Isaac in just days all the while continuing her daily chores as a rancher's wife during a drought.
Immediately it is obvious that life in the Badlands is not easy. The drought has made water scarce, forcing Isaac to send his young daughter down the well to scoop buckets of water. Liz, still very young, is traumatized by this, and Rachel feels guilty that she can not protect her daughter from this task, but the family is in desperate need of water, and Liz is the only one able to be let down to fetch it for them.
Rain eventually comes, a huge storm turning everything to mud quickly. When Rachel tries to lead a panicked animal to the barn, she falls, losing consciousness briefly. From that point, Rachel no longer feels the baby kicking.
When Isaac decides that he is going to work in a nearby town during the winter months to help the family get back on their feet financially, Rachel starts thinking about leaving the ranch for the winter months. She can't envision spending an entire season alone trying to take care of her children and the ranch. She also wants more for her children - for them to know other African Americans. As the only Negroes in their part of the Badlands, Rachel feels isolated.
When Rachel first met Isaac, as a young girl cooking at his mother's boarding house, he was the man she dreamed of marrying. Seeing her history revealed, and learning a bit more about Isaac, it becomes an interesting story. While Rachel's youth and inexperience may have allowed her to only see Isaac's good points, as the book progresses, his flaws are revealed, changing my own feelings about Isaac.
The flap on this book likens this story to the Little House books or Willa Cather's work. I would have to agree. For readers who loved those books, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree will be an enjoyable read. It should also appeal to historical fiction lovers, and those who enjoy women's fiction. There is plenty to discuss in this book - a great selection for a book club as well.

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