I’ve been listening to the Carolina Chocolate Drops for the past few months now. I’ve always been a fan of bluegrass, but when I learned that blacks also did old timey music, that it was the precursor to the blues, it was like discovering a history I never knew of myself. Reading Redwood and Wildfire was also like that.
Having lived in Chicago most of my life, I never understood what my ancestors went through when they migrated from the south. I married a white man by choice; I have white friends by choice; everything I do from music to church is based on the freedom of choice. I doubt I could have done any of the things I’m doing now back then, not so openly and freely. Reading “Redwood and Wildfire” reminded of what my grandmother told me when we were watching “The Help”: In the south, you could live next to white people but you can’t be better than them. In the north, you can be better than white people; you just can’t live next to them.
Aidan and Redwood lived in the wrong time. As George says in the book: “Peach Grove is no place to be a man.” Redwood learns it’s no no place for a woman either. Neither, for that matter, is Chicago. This book deals with some hard issues: lynchings, Jim Crow, minstrel shows, prejudice. Redwood wants to live her life free, and when she finally runs of to Chicago, she has to deal with the shame of ‘cooning’ in minstrel shows. Aidan, meanwhile, is haunted from the ghost of Redwood’s mother, who had been lynched before his eyes, trying to drown out her pleas to “do right” with alcohol.
Yet, there is always an underlying streak of optimism. You have Iris, Redwood youngest sister, who is joy incarnate, You have Doc, who has a superiority complex yet deep compassion for hurt people, and Carissa, probably my favorite character of the book, an uptight Christian who becomes Redwood’s closest ally.
And there is magic. Wonderful, beautiful, wild magic. Redwood catches a typhoon in her hand, then acts as if it’s no big deal. People change into animals in a blink of an eye. There’s time travel. A wild dance with a lionness. And lots of hoodoo. And at the heart of all this magic is a love story, as Redwood and Aidan dance around each other, filled with desire, but afraid to get too close.
Being in an interracial relationship myself, this book truly nutured me. It was also wonderful to see my hometown, both painted as a city a dreams and the broken down, racially separated place it really was (and in many parts, still is). I can see why this won the Tiptree. It had me crying and laughing all the way to the end. 5 banjos out of 5, and may I ask where is the movie of this? SOMEONE MAKE A MOVIE FOR THIS. And put the Carolina Chocolate Drops on the soundtrack. It will be awesome.