CONJURE WOMEN is Afia Atakora’s intriguing debut novel that is steeped in history and heart. Atakora drew largely from actual historic records, basing elements of the plot and characters on the stories of formerly enslaved people collected by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. The characters and their relationships are the soul of this story thanks to Atakora’s thorough research.
Jumping back and forth between the years before and after the Civil War, CONJURE WOMEN is the story of Miss Rue and her mother Miss May Belle. Both women are midwifes known for their powers of healing and cursing. The main story takes place in Freedomtime in which Miss Rue’s community is disrupted by the birth of a mysterious child, the arrival of a charismatic preacher, and a devastating sickness. We follow as Miss Rue must do whatever she can to save her people.
CONJURE WOMEN is a slow burn. The narrative gradually unfolds with plenty of twists and surprises, though I found the end result somewhat underwhelming. There is a ton of important subplots about the lives of enslaved people before and after the Civil War, but I felt like the novel should have been edited down to really concentrate on a few elements. I do think Atakora does an excellent job depicting relationships, specifically those of the female characters and how they grapple with their changing lives. As well, the prose is vivid and really brought the story and characters to life.
CONJURE WOMEN is a unique and powerful character driven novel. Though the plot felt a little too expansive, it touches on many relevant and important topics and inspires discussion and thought.
Random House provided the book for honest review.
- Title: Conjure Women
- Author: Afia Atakora
- Published: April 7, 2020 (Random House)
- Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
- Booky Nooky Rating: * * * 1/2