House of Rougeaux

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - SU­SAN WAGGONER

Jenny Jaeckel Rain­cloud Press (APRIL) Hard­cover $26.95 (308pp) 978-1-941203-24-8

On a Mar­tinique sugar plan­ta­tion near the end of the eigh­teenth cen­tury, sis­ter and brother Abeje and Adunbi are the first gen­er­a­tion born into slav­ery. They are or­phaned at an early age. Abeje grows into a heal­ing woman with an in­stinct for nat­u­ral reme­dies and a gift of sec­ond sight, while Adunbi is val­ued for his build­ing skills. Though Abeje never has chil­dren of her own, hers is the spirit that echoes through Adunbi’s de­scen­dants as the book moves across six generations.

The story un­folds in seven sec­tions, each fo­cus­ing on a dif­fer­ent mem­ber of what be­comes a very large clan. To the book’s credit, this is not your typ­i­cal gen­er­a­tional tale. The sec­tions are not pre­sented in chrono­log­i­cal or­der, but skip from Abeje to the 1960s and civil rights eras, then back again to the last decades of slav­ery, then for­ward to post-civil War years. Also un­con­ven­tional is the fact that the story does not pass from par­ent to child, but broad­ens to hop­scotch among char­ac­ters who are dis­tant cousins.

Both of these high-wire risks work to the book’s ad­van­tage, cre­at­ing a wide ta­pes­try rather than a nar­row por­trait and giv­ing a sense of the vast scope that the word “fam­ily” en­tails.

Fine brush­strokes bring the writ­ing to life, cap­tur­ing the scent of woodsmoke and sun-dried grass, or a box of rose can­dies that sym­bol­izes choice. Oc­ca­sion­ally, this pen­chant for lit­er­ary flair over­takes clar­ity, ren­der­ing events vague or con­fus­ing, as when the open­ing pages make an eighty-year leap with­out ex­pla­na­tion or de­mar­ca­tion. At its best, though, the book achieves a res­o­nance that lingers long af­ter its plot points are for­got­ten.

Per­haps the great­est achieve­ment of the book is that in spite of the inescapable pres­ence of slav­ery and prej­u­dice, it isn’t re­ally about ei­ther of these. Jenny Jaeckel’s House of Rougeaux is about peo­ple—var­ied and fully re­al­ized in­di­vid­u­als who make a flawed world their own.

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