Editorial Review: Water's Plantation by Myra McIlvain
Myra McIlvain brings the world of Texas in the late 19th century to life with the heart wrenching story of Al Waters’ lost love, and his struggles to deal with his biracial son's choices.
Toby is the talented and driven son of plantation owner Al Waters, he had always wondered about his mother – who was she, what was she like? About to leave for Harvard Medical School and taunted about his so-called status, Toby confronts his father. Despite being pale enough to “pass” as a white man all his life, Toby discovers that he is indeed the product of a union between his white father and a slave named Rachel.
Al Waters had been drunk that night and longing for Amelia - the woman he truly loved - who refused to leave her husband for him. Before the civil war Al had married his brothers’ widow, Samantha, in order to keep the plantation running, on the condition that he be allowed to free her slaves and hire them to work the land. Al intended to bring Toby and his mother to live with him, but Samantha refused to have the child in her house. Rachel died, leaving Al with only one choice – raise his son to “pass” as a white man, keeping Rachel's identity secret.
When Toby returns from his first year in medical school, his hair is short and he is embracing his heritage – and Al just doesn’t comprehend why. With the cooperative of freedmen running the plantation with Al, the Ku Klux Klan are determined to harass them. The return of Amelia into Al’s life is all he could have dreamed of, but he will not let it cost him his son.
McIlvain’s writing is impeccable, and once the story begins, it becomes difficult to tear yourself away from the drama. The characters are genuinely well created, they leap from the page and embed themselves in the reader's hearts and minds. The complex layering of personalities and life history is just as multifaceted as life itself. Perhaps what gives the fantastic writing its weighty gravitas is the fact that the historical side is so well researched. With a comprehensive list of source material at the back of the book, McIlvain leaves no stone unturned and provides the reader with the key to a wealth of knowledge about Reconstruction era Texas. Woven through this sad story, set against the backdrop of the racial turmoil and national tension of that time, is a consistent thread of determination and hope.
Waters Plantation boasts not only a great story that is well written, but also characters so real that you feel you know them personally -- an overall triumph for Myra McIlvain.