Remembrance by Rita Woods. New York: Forge, a Tom Doherty Associates book, 2020.
What if there had been a secret escape from slavery? A sliver of the universe, protected by the supernatural, where runaway slaves found rest, peace, and the assurance that no one would ever hurt them again. In Rita Wood’s debut novel that place exists—it’s called Remembrance.
Gaelle is a refugee from Haiti struggling to make ends meet. She works in a nursing facility, worries about eviction, and looks forward to Christmas with her sister. Galle is also the only staff member who isn’t spooked by a nameless, silent nursing home resident. In fact, she goes out of her way to spend time with this elderly woman; learning that they both share the supernatural ability to control heat and fire. Though Gaelle does not know yet, her meeting with this patient is not coincidence, and her supernatural ability makes her the successor to a line of gifted African American women.
A major time jump takes readers back to 1857 and into the lives of Margot, Veronique, and their grandmother. The three women are house slaves in Louisiana, and Margot, the eldest, possesses a supernatural healing ability, but even her skill is not enough to save her sister. When Veronique falls ill and the girls decide to run, only Margot survives the ordeal. At the end of her journey, she finds herself in that strange, hidden place called Remembrance.
While Margot’s story unfolds, readers meet Abigail, a slave on a Haitian plantation in 1791. Slaves are escaping, running to join the rebel Maroons and take their revenge on the white slave owners. After watching Hercule, the man she loves, burn for attacking a plantation, Abigail finds herself torn from her children and on a ship to New Orleans. It is there where Abigail leaves her life as a slave behind and begins her transformation into Mother Abigail, the powerful priestess who will create Remembrance.
The stories continue to unfold in both the past and present, as each woman struggles to make sense of the supernatural and to protect what is theirs. Another woman called Winter joins the cast of characters, and shortly after Margot’s arrival, Mother Abigail’s power begins to wane. Remembrance is left open to threats for the first time, and in the present, Gaelle’s life is turned upside down by continuous eviction threats and the presence of a frightening man who seems to know a lot about her silent patient—and her own future.
Remembrance is the masterfully-woven story of generations of strong black women, jumping between the distant past and the present to share their connected stories of struggle, hope, and magic. The book can be somewhat confusing until readers become used to the sudden time jumps, but the culmination of the women’s stories is well worth the read. Remembrance is recommended for lovers of historical fiction and fantasy, and for those who enjoy watching strong women overcome again and again.
Kelsey Blackburn works at North Park Public Library and can be contacted at email@example.com.