Ledford (Blue Ridge Walker, 2015) concludes the story of Oma, a part-Cherokee nomad who was born during the Civil War.
Oma’s mother was half-white and half-Cherokee; her father was a slave. Adopted by a Lumbee group, Oma developed deep respect for nature and native traditions. At 18, she moved on in search of the mother who abandoned her, surviving an early rape and benefiting from the kindness of strangers and Cherokee communities along the way. In a problem common to sequels, the novel opens with an awkward information dump. Details on U.S.-Indian treaties could also be integrated more naturally. However, Ledford lovingly crafts the Native American experience through rituals, wildlife legends, and prayers to the Great Spirit. The main character feels kinship with animals, evidenced in standout scenes in which a coyote gives birth in her cave and buries a dead deer. Descriptions of clothing and foods animate Appalachian culture. Watching the rise of cities like Asheville, Oma astutely observes that “commerce and wilderness seemed to blend in a strange new harmony.” Her tour of the Biltmore Estate, where old friends work, is a particular highlight. Tin Lizzies and a Klan gathering helpfully signal the march of time, but from chapter to chapter, it’s difficult to track the chronology. An anachronistic phrase like “trash talk” (not recorded until the 1980s) sits uneasily amid the authentic period vocabulary. Moreover, without headings announcing the year, Oma’s wanderings feel repetitive. Her life stretches from the Civil War to 1935, but it can be challenging to pinpoint events within that span. Crucially, once Oma decides that “finding my mother was just a dream,” the novel no longer has a clear aim. All of a sudden, it seems, Oma is elderly, “too old and too broken to continue,” but how she gets to that point is a muddle. Typos and wordy dialogue should also be addressed.
Despite the uneven writing, Oma remains an emblematic figure of recovery from tragedy and communion with nature and the divine.