Wednesday, October 12, 2011

High Water

"Anyone so venal as to assert her [own] right to inherit...
clearly knew no humility," writes author Thulani Davis. Davis, a thoroughly American woman, who records her search for her ancestors, the family that is her own inheritance continuing to the present. She writes of a time long ago, the struggles of that Civil War era family, and their lives. "[She] took an almost hysterical exception to Chloe's [the author's great-grandmother] ability to act on her own behalf, to exercise power over her own life..." My Confederate Kinfolk is a tale of a family struggling with the changes wrought in their world by the Civil War and  its consequences.

Davis writes ultimately about justice and her family struggle toward that end. You see, the family story isn't all that straightforward; it isn't all that apparent. Some parts fell, submerged into the passing of  time. Nearly forgotten, Davis rediscovers and tells a story about her ancestors. Her great grandmother, Chloe inspires her. Davis comes to see herself a part the story, just as much as her grandmothers. It's a complex story with surprising twists that the author openly explores, confiding to the reader her discovery.

Continuing with what she has learned, Davis writes, Sarah, (Chloe's sister in law) in tangling with Chloe, put herself in direct confrontation with Chloe's pragmatic, practiced world views. Views that had been tested through a lifetime of making family primary, "a preference for decision-making rather than dependency, and a dogged determination borne of already knowing what what one can endure."

"That first harvest... was an incredible victory over slavery, starvation, the loss of loved ones, and the terrible odds against many. It was a triumph for the bond between Chloe and Will and the promises that people make to live on, to keep going what has been built, and to take care of those who need help... a task we have actually chosen. Chosen not by force of a whip, but by our own determination to win another day. And this victory was sweet... to know so well the difference between a chance and no chance at all.
A freed [person] would know survival alone can be a triumph," a justice to know that she, Chloe was free. The rest of her life was in her own hands. Whether her time was long or short, her life was a gift to create; a sight that each of us possesses, a destiny that we are perhaps already where we ought be.

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