Publisher: Bywater Books
A good book has engaging characters and a plot that holds the reader’s interest. An outstanding book takes those attributes and adds a message, teaches a lesson or allows the reader to understand something that may not have been clear to that person before. An author rises to the top of a genre and gains the respect of the people who read those books by developing this ability. Marianne Martin has produced a string of award winning books because she spends her time writing carefully, researching the topic and going over the book to make sure it is in the best form possible before it is released. Martin also isn’t afraid to tackle difficult topics, which is abundantly clear in Tangled Roots, the prequel to her earlier work, Under the Witness Tree.
Tangled Roots is set in a period of US history that was almost as stressful as the civil war it followed. Many of the characters remember that war and the period of adjustments that followed it. Those changes led to others that will sweep in the Progressive movement, a time when many people, especially women and African Americans, hoped that true justice and political equality would be achieved for everyone. Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching battled with the creation of the NAACP and the eloquence of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. The stifling concept of women as nothing but breeders and homemakers was confronted by the steely determination of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul for women to have greater opportunities. The conflict in the book comes between those who cannot accept the new ideas and those who yearn for them.
The story focuses on Addy Grayson, her granddaughter Anna and Anna’s best friend Nessie, a descendent of the slaves who once worked for the Graysons. Addy survived the Civil War, but questions whether she has the energy to deal with raising her granddaughters and confronting their bigoted father. She is rejuvenated when a younger woman introduces her to new ideas and she finds the ability to finally deal with an old secret. Anna and Nessie begin as two little girls who like to play with each other and share dreams. They don’t recognize the racial divide that both of their families keep throwing in their ways until they are older, but they share the frustration of being told that women can’t have the lives they hope to pursue. They are caught up in the stresses of their time, the expectations of both families and the growing awareness that their childhood love has turned into something much deeper and forbidden. Addy is the pillar they both lean on.
Tangled Roots is a compact novel. It’s hard to believe that Martin deals with so many complex issues in just over 200 pages. She’s able to do so because she chooses her words and her scenes carefully. This isn’t meant to be a history of the period, but a snippet, the events as seen through the eyes of her three main characters. Martin avoids the trap of wandering around addressing issues that were important to the time, but not to her story. Yet there is a richness in the scenes that comes off of the pages and leads the reader to have a beginning understanding of what this period and these women were about. This is the type of book that is not too heavy to bog down people in the many conflicts of the period, but that leads readers to other books and resources to find out what else happened during this time of drama and change, triumph and dreams deferred.
Marianne Martin has written a book that weaves a tapestry of history and romance with the lives of the characters. It will cause the reader to think, but not to feel that she’s been lectured to. Don’t let its size fool you. There is a lot to be absorbed here. An outstanding book has engaging characters, an interesting plot and leads its reader to greater knowledge. Tangled Roots certainly does all of that.