When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed by Bradley Greenburg
Paperback, e-Book, 450 pages
Sandstone Press, Ltd
UK Publication Date: June 19, 2014
US Publication Date: August 28, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
“The end of slavery is no guarantee of freedom. When Clayton McGhee journeys north with his parents and grandparents in search of a new life, they must build a homestead with their own labor and defend their right to own land from powerful vested interests and deep rooted prejudice. Thirty years later, Clayton is still forced to defend his livelihood and his family’s safety from racism and greed. But life is more complex now, as the men of influence in this increasingly mixed community find to their cost. When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed is a riveting adventure story about fathers and sons and the difficult moral choices which resound down the generations as America moves slowly towards freedom and equality.”
I was drawn to this book because the title sounded familiar to me and the cover design was interesting and different from what we typically see in historical fiction. There is a famous poem by Walt Whitman of essentially the same name, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, which was written as an elegy to the recently fallen President Lincoln and alludes to the Civil War. The book by Greenburg is also set just following the Civil War during Reconstruction. I can’t help but imagine there must be a connection between this poem and Greenburg’s book, although I can’t confirm anything about that at this point. Anyone who has read more of this book than I have, can you say anything about this point?
From Chapter 4 (of the PDF copy sent to me by the Publicist)
James McGhee had ridden a long way and was tired. He had slept in the open on hard ground, eaten stale food, been cursed at, lied to, chased by dogs and children, and even saved a woman from harm who did not bother to thank or even acknowledge him.
Now he was angry.
He was brought up to be submissive to white people. There hadn’t been any choice in that. He knew how to repress his wants and shunt his thoughts to survival. Live for a better day, his mama had told him. Turn the other cheek. He felt just about out of cheeks to turn. His fury rose up in him and he watched it rush past its usual mark without cease.
He let it.
When his fists slammed down on the counter his expression of rage shocked the fat clerk who jumped back is if he had been struck. In a panic he turned toward his desk, intending perhaps to arm himself with something there or put some furniture between his person and this crazed black intruder. In doing so got his feet tangled. He stumbled and reached out to grasp the edge of the desk but he misjudged the distance and his forehead struck it with a dull crack.
James held still, waiting to see if the man would stir. When there was no movement he dropped his hat on the counter and let himself through the low swinging door that separated it from the wall.
“Mister?” he said in a quiet voice.
There was no response. He advanced cautiously, afraid the man would come to and just as scared that he would not.
James bent down and shook him gently, then leaned over and put his ear to the man’s back. He was breathing. As carefully as he could he rolled him over to see how grievously he’d hit his head. He folded his handkerchief into a square to dab at the blood. There was a darkening bruise and swelling but he wasn’t bleeding badly.
He had to think. If the man died and he was found alone with him they would never believe it was an accident. His horse was close by. With a little luck he could be miles from town before the man was discovered. But if he died when he could have been saved by the timely fetching of a doctor . . . well, that was a kind of murder too. The sheriff seemed a good man. If he had to trust someone to believe him there was no better option. Having a plan made him feel calmer.
When he heard the door open his heart hammered in his chest.
When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloomed by Bradley Greenburg is published on 19 June 2014 and is available at all good bookstores and online, price $19.00.
Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court