“The Personal History of Rachel DuPree,” by Ann Weisgarber, Viking Publishers, 321 pages, $25.95.
Rachel served as a cook in a Chicago boardinghouse.
Many blacks had migrated up North to work in the vast slaughterhouses in the early 1900s.
Isaac Dupree, a veteran Buffalo Soldier, invited Rachel to go with him to the Dakota Badlands and take advantage of the Homestead Act.
We experience with Rachel the trials of marriage and the frustrations of a man who brushes away tender feelings for her and their children.
They lived in a dugout while they built a “wood house,” which was Rachel’s dream even though it had no running water or electricity.
Life was hard but became impossible when a six-month drought killed crops and livestock.
Rachel’s “personal history” opens with a vivid and intense scene. Rachel agonizes over the necessity of Isacc lowering 7-year-old Liz into a nearly dried up well to salvage the scant water in the bottom.
There is much to admire about Rachel and Isaac’s family, beset with flaws. Their devotion to each other, to Rounder, their dog, and to their milk cow, Jerseybell, speaks of their heart. The children’s everyday chores will astound children of today.
The reader can hardly believe how difficult life was at the turn of the 20th century. Rachel’s heart is their five children, determined that they have a better life and angry at Isaac’s betrayal as he dedicates every penny to acquiring more land.
“A man with land. That’s a proud thing,” he says while the family is starving. “Land ownership makes a black man equal to whites.”
Reminiscent of Willa Cather but entangled with racial overtones, this exciting, fast-moving novel will catch your interest and focus on the hard times and well-defined characters.
The Dupree family deals with prejudice by ignoring it, but they despise the “agency Indians,” who only want “a handout.”
Modern-day family moral arguments make you question whether a wife should place her children before her land-hungry husband. Is it wrong to do the right thing?
I longed to continue reading and learn what happened after the last page. Rachel’s story demands a sequel.