Songwriter Randall’s audacious, highly controversial (the Margaret Mitchell estate is not amused) debut retells Gone With the Wind from the point of view of Scarlett O’Hara’s mulatto half-sister.
Like many a slave child, Cynara was born out of wedlock, fathered by “Planter,” the white man who owned her mother. She grew up in relatively protected circumstances, able to read and write (unlike her Mammy), her life holding an off-center mirror to the experiences of her famously headstrong white half-sister, here known only as “Other.” Cynara’s sly sketches of Dreamy Gentleman (Ashley Wilkes), Miss Mealy Mouth (the irritatingly saintlike Melanie), and a host of other supporting characters from the original enliven this pseudo-memoir. Cynara and R. (Rhett Butler) become lovers—what Other doesn’t know won’t hurt her, Cynara reasons. R. turns to her in secret when his beloved little daughter dies, but he refuses to give her the child of her own she yearns for. Openly his mistress after Emancipation, Cynara travels to Europe and throughout the South, meeting Frederick Douglass, colored congressmen, and other dignitaries of the new black elite, although she discovers that the mulatto mistresses of Confederate aristocracy have little standing in Negro society. The real story here, however, is the parallel lives of the sisters, whose fates are forever entwined. Cynara offers a shrewd assessment of her white Other, who “has the vitality, vigor, and the pragmatism of a slave, and into this water you stir as much refinement as you can without leaving any grains of sugar at the bottom of the glass. She was a slave in a white woman’s body, and that’s a sweet drink of cold water.” But Cynara, a remarkable woman in her own right, outshines her on every page. Randall’s vivid prose skillfully captures the color of a mind, which is something much subtler than skin shades of brown or black or white.
Sure to outrage a few diehard traditionalists—and entertain everyone else.