Eleven years after the American Civil War ended, Effie Jones leaves Indiana in the North and returns to New Orleans in the South in search of her roots. A young freedwoman, she pursues her profession as an embalmer, a skill she learned from an army surgeon who cared for her during the war and took her in to his home afterward.
Seemingly unaffected by her frequent encounters with death, Effie’s strong will and steady hands help her white employer’s flagging business prosper. But even as she gains some job-related and financial stability in her personal life, the political climate in New Orleans deteriorates as white supremacists use any means possible to terrorize black people and claw back the rights they gained.
Effie meets three people—Samson Greene, a state legislator passionate for justice; Adeline, a beautiful Creole woman, impoverished, yet still trying to maintain social appearances; and Tom, a kind gentleman crippled during the war—and is swept into situations beyond her control that she could never have imagined. As memories of Effie’s past elude yet haunt her, her newfound friends encourage her to search for her kin—a quest marred by violence while investigating and, finally, in remembering and discovering.
This fascinating novel for adults—part romance, part historical fiction—opens an intriguing window into an embalmer’s world and the racial strife in Reconstruction-era America. Readers will applaud Effie’s insights into God-ordained racial equality: she notes that the people who created vile caricatures of other races for a Mardi Gras parade “had never looked upon the insides of a man. Never seen the heart, lungs, spleen, liver all laid out in the same grand order regardless of race or sex.” Includes discussion questions for small group study. (Kensington Books)