First-novelist von Herzen's tale of an interracial friendship in early-20th-century rural Texas is based, in part, on oral history from the author's own forebears; and, indeed, there is a hearthside, grandmotherly, yarn-spinning rhythm to the telling of this story of tragedy and hardship, courage and love—all given a cosmic weight with ghosts slipping in and out. In Copper Crown, the color barrier was strong, the treatment of blacks by (poor) whites in general nakedly cruel. White Cassie and black Allie had to talk ``girl'' things in secret. Cassie, an ``almost bride'' at 15, had seen Murray, her husband-to-be, run off with cousin Lily Mark. But Murray and Lily Mark would leave Cassie a legacy—a fine horse and then, when doomed Lily Mark returned, the baby Ruby. It's with the horse and Ruby that Cassie and Allie finally leave the hell Copper Crown turned out to be—away from Cassie's sister's grave, Allie's dead brother, and the rows of innocent hanged black men. Eventually, the two will find work and home (of a kind) with brutal, stupid Mr. Skeet, owner of a ``dining house.'' Days are thin and hard, but with the friendship of a Mexican hired hand, they plant trees secretly, raise Ruby, save pennies. (Later, the dead Lily Mark appears, electric blue, from time to time, checking up on her child.) Finally, through chance and grim luck, the women own the restaurant. But then Warren, Allie's big husband, steps between them. Warren dislikes Cassie ``for her kind''; she dislikes him for ``seeing kinds instead of persons.'' There's a vicious killing, as well as the presumed end of a lifelong friendship, but at the close, hosts of the living and the dead—and soon-to-be dead—have a party. In a murmurous, intimate idiom, a moving tale of strength in terrible times, and a wise understanding of the power of ``person''-hood as opposed to ``kind''-hood.
Read full book review >