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In the early 19th century, Elisabeth has lost her parents, her home, and nearly all of her possessions. Her carriage driver, maid servant, and old dog are her only companions as they travel north from Charleston to find distant relatives in Ohio. Due to an unseasonable storm in the South Carolina midlands, she is reluctantly forced to seek refuge at a plantation known as The Cedar. Elisabeth is determined to turn misfortune into opportunity and the saga of Vesper Bodes and young Elisabeth begins.
The events preceding her arrival at The Cedar are revealed as the story unfolds, ultimately spanning almost two centuries of history, triumphs, and struggle. The Bodes family story reaches back to the plight of immigrants, some by choice, others forced through the atrocities of slavery. Native American Indians are at times allies and at others enemies to the settlers of the American landscape. Family tragedy and scandal are abundant as the topics of interracial marriage, juvenile childbirth, and infidelity are broached during time periods less tolerant of perceived improprieties.
The Cedar is a work of the highest order. An enthralling and powerful evocation of time and place, character, moral choices, immoral certainties, human nature and fate with Butler creating an emotional eddy that draws you in from one page to the next. Flawlessly written it’s a novel that transcends the historically fraught centuries it covers and doesn't require much effort to surrender to and enjoy. Against a background of relentless change, it’s a telling to be savoured with the relationship dynamics wonderfully observed and Butler’s exquisite ear for dialogue echoing the thoughts of her characters with a timely clarity which proves wholly endearing throughout. Marrying historical social and cultural influences with enjoyable storytelling is far from straightforward but Butler achieves it with a remarkable sense of immediacy by inhabiting the minds of her characters so we see events unfold through their eyes and thus making the chequered history of The Cedar ever more poignant. In short, all her characters come alive. They live and die and in recounting their lives her prose evoke the sounds and sights of bygone centuries without appearing to work too hard to get period details right.
Beautifully written and an extraordinary read with all the hallmarks of a classic, The Cedar is recommended without reservation.
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A must-read for fans of Civil War era historical fiction.