by Amanda Skenandore
Genres: Historical Fiction
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Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, and with an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart, The Undertaker’s Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience—and of the unlikely bonds that hold fast even in our darkest moments.
“The dead can’t hurt you. Only the living can.” Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies—and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer’s shortcomings.
Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters—with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline—introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .
The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore takes readers to New Orleans during the Reconstruction Era as Effie Jones, a former slave works as an embalmer and uncovers the secrets of her childhood. Gripping and poignant Skenandore reflects on a turbulent time in America’s history.
Effie a former slave escaped the south during the war and, raised as a ward by a couple in the north. At, the tender age of seven she began learning the skills of an embalmer. Now as a young free woman, she has returned to New Orleans, near the place they found her. She finds work as an undertaker’s assistant to a northern sympathizer who’s beliefs, drinking, and unsteady hands have left his business in shambles. She quickly turns things the business around, earning herself a dollar a day.
She lives in a boarding house for young women on the colored side of town, and stumbles upon a Ward meeting. Here she hears the charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene speak. It is the first time she feels smitten for a man.
Through the girls at the boarding house she visits a fortune teller and meets a beautiful young Creole, Adeline whom she eventually befriends.
There are a lot of firsts for Effie in this story and as she experiences things, the memories of her past sneak back in flashes, smells and more. Effie cannot remember anything before her ward found her beside a river bank where she uttered the words, “I’m lookin’ for da’ Yankees.”
Amanda Skenandore recreates the dangerous political climate highlighting some darker moments that occurred in Louisiana during this period. She shared the struggles, fear, hatred and determination of these proud people. From social activism to burned marble cake she shared it all.
I laughed, and I cried right along with Effie. The scenes where she regained her full memories felt very surreal, as did her fear by the river, and in the woods. Mixed in we have romance, betrayal, friendship, family and finding home.
I would be neglectful if I didn’t mention the darker sides of this tale. There is murder, racial brutality, rape, physical beatings and flashbacks. While none were overly graphic, the author didn’t gloss over these painful truth to our nation’s history. Then we have the embalming details. The geeky side of me found all of this fascinating but once again confirmed my preference for cremation.
The story offers a glimpse into Effie Jones life and journey as she looks for answers and a place to call home. I laughed, cried, was angered and became emotionally invested in the story as it unfolded.
Fans of historical fiction, the Reconstruction Era and strong southern heroine should add The Undertaker’s Assistant to their reading pile this summer!In The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore the author shares a glimpse into Reconstruction Era in New Orleans #NewRelease #HistoricalFiction #MustRead Click To Tweet
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