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Friday, October 17, 2014

Ruth's Journey: The Story of Mammy from Gone With The Wind by Donald McCraig

Title:  Ruth's Journey: The Story of Mammy from Gone with the Wind

Author: Donald McCaig
Publisher:  October 14th 2014 by Atria Books 
ISBN: 1451643551 (ISBN13: 9781451643558)
Pages:  416 pages
How We Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, military history
My Rating: 2 ½ crowns


Authorized by the Margaret Mitchell Estate, here is the first-ever prequel to one of the most beloved and bestselling novels of all time, Gone with the Wind. The critically acclaimed author of Rhett Butler’s People magnificently recounts the life of Mammy, one of literature’s greatest supporting characters, from her days as a slave girl to the outbreak of the Civil War.

“Her story began with a miracle.” On the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue, an island consumed by the flames of revolution, a senseless attack leaves only one survivor—an infant girl. She falls into the hands of two French émigrés, Henri and Solange Fournier, who take the beautiful child they call Ruth to the bustling American city of Savannah.

What follows is the sweeping tale of Ruth’s life as shaped by her strong-willed mistress and other larger-than-life personalities she encounters in the South: Jehu Glen, a free black man with whom Ruth falls madly in love; the shabbily genteel family that first hires Ruth as Mammy; Solange’s daughter Ellen and the rough Irishman, Gerald O’Hara, whom Ellen chooses to marry; the Butler family of Charleston and their shocking connection to Mammy Ruth; and finally Scarlett O’Hara—the irrepressible Southern belle Mammy raises from birth. As we witness the difficult coming of age felt by three generations of women, gifted storyteller Donald McCaig reveals a portrait of Mammy that is both nuanced and poignant, at once a proud woman and a captive, and a strict disciplinarian who has never experienced freedom herself. But despite the cruelties of a world that has decreed her a slave, Mammy endures, a rock in the river of time. She loves with a ferocity that would astonish those around her if they knew it. And she holds tight even to those who have been lost in the ravages of her days.

Set against the backdrop of the South from the 1820s until the dawn of the Civil War, here is a remarkable story of fortitude, heartbreak, and indomitable will—and a tale that will forever illuminate your reading of Margaret Mitchell’s unforgettable classic, Gone with the Wind.

My thoughts:

I was so excited to receive this book to read but, for me, it was somewhat disappointing that it read more like a non-fiction book – a detailed historical analysis - that left a lot to be desired for this reader longing to escape back to Tara. As a consequence of this, there was little expression of feeling from the characters, which made it hard to feel investment in their fates.

Rich in history (more non-fiction than fiction), events such as President Jefferson and the embargo on American goods, or the inclusion of direct quotations from the ‘South Carolina Legislature December 20, 1820, are well executed but at times tedious. The problem, of course, with this is that sometimes Ruth’s story becomes an aside, e.g. the whole detail and saga regarding the horse racing and ‘Red Stick’. There is no denying that this is a very well researched book, but unfortunately it is rather convoluted and does not get interesting until Mammy gets to Tara with the O’Hara’s (the book ends where Gone With The Wind starts – the day of the barbeque). For all of this, I cannot take anything away from the writing and research, which is outstanding.

The first half of the book was very slow, wordy and – sad to say - boring. Frustratingly it did not seem like ‘Ruth's Journey’ at all!  At the beginning it was not told from her perspective. You learn a lot about Solange (the story is really about her and Ellen. “Who is Solange?” She is Scarlett’s grandmother) and her three husbands, her children, and other various white plantation owners of the era. Yes, it was at times interesting to be a witness to Scarlett's grandparents, but it just got to be too much to be honest.

Another reason the story is difficult to follow is because a large portion of the novel is written in pre-Civil War black vernacular. On the one hand, it is great that it comes directly from Mammy's viewpoint; however, honestly, it is difficult to understand at times.

I also found the writing to be disjointed in parts, at one stage the timeline doing a major jump, and with so many characters that makes it exceedingly difficult to keep up with the storyline. Undeniably, it was chunky and chops around a bit, requiring real concentration to stay on track. I also had issues with how closely it attempted to replicate Gone With The Wind in many places. For example: Solange being the ‘favoured, spirited daughter’ – it was easy to see Scarlett in her grandmother. Also, Solange “imagined brave men fighting over her was romantic” (decidedly Scarlett) or the multiple marriages that would become common in the family and finally, the way the family was snubbed at times (much like Scarlett and Rhett were).

Despite all this, you will love Mammy Ruth and feel sorry for her (there is a lot of sadness in this tale), and ​you will love learning about ​her strength, love and loyalty for the people she cared for that  ​kept her going on through all of that sadness. Overall, it was her calling to be the wise and devoted carer of these families– the Robillard and O’Hara families – that would see her witness days of joy and days of incredible sadness.

For devoted ‘Gone With The Wind’ fans, you will still pick this book up in spite of any shortcomings – any excuse to spend ‘some’ time with much loved characters and locations.  For as Mammy states:

“I ask myself, why I loves her? Why I want know everything she up to? ….. She ain’t like most folks!.....Miss Katie (Scarlett) am who she am! She like sun goin’ down and moon comin’ up. Ain’t nothing you can do ‘bout it but be glad.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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