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War Makes Widows and Orphans - an Editorial Review of "Kinship"

Book Blurb: Coming Soon!

Book Buy Link: Coming Soon!

Author Bio:

Merry White Benezra was a resident over an eight-month period at a Zen Buddhist monastery in the United States. A graduate of Goddard College, Benezra lives and works in Mountain View, California. She can see Google from her backyard.

Editorial Review:

On my next leave, in June, I watched from my bedroom window as our field hands laid down their tools and filed silently down the lane to freedom. By now, all the slaves in our parts seemed to know about Mr. Lincoln's proclamation, and how it was they could find refuge behind the army lines. Ours must have heard the rumors the Federal troops were close by. Coralee and her little brother Jimmy Apple ran outside to catch up with the exodus, following behind their father, Big Jimmy, and our three leased men.

War makes widows and orphans, and Kinship's story opens with the tragic circumstances for Marina, a tried and true Southern Belle living on a plantation where the war shadows creep closer and leave her utterly alone. With a touch of Gone With the Wind meets Cold Mountain, this story winds as much through the history of what is happening around the plantation as it does with Marina's own inner and outer struggles. She finds a strength inside herself that she never knew, yet longs for family, for a connection to the past. Her mother, a proud German woman from Dusseldorf, and her father, a hard-to-read plantation owner with secrets, and all three of her brothers are lost to the war and to sickness. Yet, unexpectedly, a former house slave named Coralee returns to the plantation after her emancipation... and expecting a child.

I could not say whether or not my soul was lost. Certainly my innocence was gone, but was that the same thing? I couldn't work it out, and gave up trying.

While Marina fights her own sorrows and recovers from her own attack from Union soldiers, she thinks to regain the past by rekindling an old relationship with the nearby plantation owner's son, Frank. Yet, time and war have changed them both... Frank has become hardened, and his sister's ingratiated into the old uppity Southern ways... all with their eyes fixed on regaining the property that Marina has inherited. Marina and Coralee's friendship grows, and as they become more like friends instead of 'master' and 'slave', the development changes them both. As Coralee makes plans to wed a local free man, Marina appears to founder upon what her future holds... yet she determines that she cannot regain her old life with Frank.

Marina's dream becomes that of finding her mother's family in Germany, of moving there once the blockade is lifted after the war is over... of finding kin... that is until Coralee gives birth to a little boy and names him Carlisle. But the secret behind Carlisle's father's identity is too much for Coralee to bear, especially when she is reunited with her own mother, Delray, who insists she gets rid of the child. With her eyes set on returning to Africa, Coralee leaves Carlisle with Marina, claiming his father was Marina's brother, Matthew, and walks away.

Now, Marina's life has changed, once again, and she must face the prospect of raising a mulatto child in a world full of hate and prejudice.... plus the fact that she is a single woman facing the stares and whispers of her situation. In a bold move, she leaves everything behind, and journeys across rivers and mountains to the coast to find a ship to take her and Carlisle to Germany. What she doesn't expect is who she meets when she gets Upstate and how her life will change again in an instant.

Mutti had described Dusseldorf to me on so many occasions that I almost came to believe I had once lived there myself. The sweep of the Rhine and its broad promenade, the hillsides dotted with ancient castles. The Black Forest, teeming with gnomes and witches, where disobedient children were in the habit of getting lost and then, after their adventures, finding their ways home. My mother loved to recount her memories, but she always concluded them with a shake of her head, saying, “We can only march forward, Marina.... the past is a destination that no longer exists.”

For the most part, the reader will find a sense of connection to the main character, Marina, as the author develops her character using very introspective passages, representing her solitude, her inner voice, and the past speaking to her, all aspects which most people can relate to very quickly. Marina's need to find family, to connect and find a kinship is the thread running through this narrative, and there is an impression made into the storyline showing that kinship is possible even when someone is not blood-related, even between people of different nationalities, races, or backgrounds... but only if you allow yourself to learn and change.

A country that requires such distraction will return soon enough to its own troubles,” was Matthew's opinion. “I fear our slavery question will never be resolved. Never. It will fester until the end of time.”

Marina claws her way back to a life beyond the war; Coralee, in some ways, remains in captivity to the past; and Carlisle links both women not only in this book but, as was hinted at, in any future ones concerning his or Marina's life. Many times the passages will remind one of Ruby and Ada's relationship in Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, of the changes both had to make to survive, and the responsibility of letting the past go; yet, that being said, some of the decisions felt forced, out of place, out of character, or at least, not enough character development to warrant the next steps. This, however, did not necessarily distract from the overall thread of the storyline, it only paused the reading from time to time as your mind tries to answer the 'whys' and 'hows' before going forward. All in all, “Kinship” is an easy read, a glimpse into a single Southern belle's place in the world after the war, as well as how many emancipated slaves sought to return to their former 'roots' in Africa.


“Kinship” by Merry Benezra receives four stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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