Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber

The time is 1903. The setting is Chicago. Rachel is working as a cook in a boarding house, living at home with her parents to whom she hands over most of her paychecks to, and there are no marriage prospects in sight unless she wants to settle for a slaughter house worker and still be a cook in a boarding house ten years down the road. So when a fine fellow, Isaac Dupree comes around talking about 160 acres of South Dakota land, Rachel pretty much proposes to him. The deal: She gets her own 160 acres and hands it over to him in exchange for one year of marriage.

Fourteen years and a couple kids later. Rachel has gone from being a cook to trying to scrape enough beans and water together to make the smallest meal. There is a drought. The animals are starving to death, the cow's milk has run dry. Added to that is some doubts she is having about her husband, Isaac and his possibly shady past. He also treats her like a farm hand, not a wife. She is battling back and forth with herself.. Stay in the Badlands or go home to Chicago? Is there even a home for her there anymore? One by one, ranchers are leaving and pretty soon Rachel is the only woman left in the area in the only African American family.

It's a good story as far as showing readers what life in pioneer SD was like and especially during a drought but I didn't like Rachel enough to give it a five. She locks her kids in their room while she does stuff rather than watch them.. and even tho she does it to run off and find another one, it's still wrong. What if the house catches fire or something? She also sticks her kid in the dark depths of a well screaming and crying to get the last dredges of water rather than ask for a handout.. When you have kids, you gotta swallow your pride.. That's going too far.

I also would have preferred she have a bit more backbone with Isaac. She just let him run and control everything. Spineless.. until the very end. Good ending.

The story itself tho, going back and forth between 1903 Chicago and her meeting Isaac to the 1917 Badlands and drought and hungry children, and strange Native American visitors was great. 4/5 stars.Picture of a sod house in 1898. I imagine it was a home like this that Rachel and Isaac started out with. This picture was taken by a frontier photographer named John McCarthy and the location is Milton, North Dakota. It later became a famous stamp, honoring the Homestead Act.

My friend, Irene passed this book on to me.

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