Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree: Farming in the Badlands

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree: A NovelMy Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Rachel DuPree cooks for a Chicago boardinghouse that serves African-American slaughterhouse workers in the early 1900s. She meets the snobby landlady's son and decides that he's her ticket out of Chicago. Isaac has ambitious plans to homestead in the Badlands in South Dakota. They strike a deal: she can give Isaac her 160 acres of land and he'll marry her.

Several years and several children later, Rachel is in a staid, lonely marriage and hating the drought-ridden, dusty and windy Badlands, which have caused her the death of three of her children. They are the only African-American family around for miles. Her husband is not averse to lowering one of their terrified children all the way down into the bottom of the well so she can retrieve a few buckets of water for the family's needs. Between Isaac's ambition for more land and the devastation the drought wreaked on their farm, Isaac announces that he is going to go work in a mine all winter and leave Rachel with all of the children to fend for herself and hold down the farm. He refuses to listen to any protests.

Rachel struggles to decide what she must do--continue to exist in a loveless marriage, in which she has virtually no say in critical decisions--or return to a Chicago filled with race riots and the companionship of her family. Weisgarber skillfully portrays the dusty miserable drought of the Badlands, the lack of choices and freedom as an African-American woman, and life on a remote farm as the only adult.

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