Synopsis from Goodreads:
In exchange for a wedding ring, Rachel, hired help in an early-twentieth-century Chicago boardinghouse, agrees to give Isaac, the boardinghouse owner's son, her share of 160 acres from the Homestead Act, and together they stake a claim in the forebodingly beautiful South Dakota Badlands.
But after fourteen years and an especially brutal summer in this unforgiving land, the cattle bellow with thirst, and supplies are dwindling. Pregnant, and struggling to feed her family, Rachel is isolated by more than just geography. She is determined to give her surviving children the life they deserve, but she knows that her husband will never leave his ranch: land means a measure of equality with the white man, and Isaac DuPree is not about to give it up just because times are hard. Somehow Rachel must find the strength to stake another, altogether different claim-for herself, and for her children.
Reminiscent of The Color Purple as well as the frontier novels of Willa Cather and Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree tells the little-known story of African American pioneers and gives voice to an extraordinary heroine who embodies the strength and spirit that built America.
My take on this book: SPOILERS AHEAD CAUTION
The Personal History of Rachel Dupree is a poignant novel set during the turn of the century in the Badlands of South Dakota.
Once you read the first paragraph of this novel, it gets into your head and heart and there isn't any way you can put it down.
Rachel is the kitchen help in Isaac's mothers boarding house in Chicago, Isaac is fresh out of the army and tells great stories about how a man can go out west and homestead 160 acres. In his mind its land that will help them rise above. So Rachel and Isaac strike up a deal, he wants land and she wants out of Chicago so he decides that if she will come west with him she can claim 160 acres as well, he will keep her for a year and then she can leave. Rachel has other ideas she won't go unless he marries her, he doesn't want to marry but he wants her land so he agrees but the bargain remains,she can stay a year.
Fast forward about 15yrs they're still in the badlands and its the worst draught they have had in years. The authors description of the heat, the dirt, and the lack of food and water is so real that you feel the family suffering, even the animals suffer, and to add to this Rachel is 9 months pregnant and she has started to become a little disillusioned with her husband.
Isaac is continuously driven to acquire more land and cattle no matter the tole it takes on his family. Because he is the only black rancher for miles he feels like he has to work twice as hard to prove himself.
This novel gives us a glimpse into a little known fact in American history, the black pioneering family,and how they must have changed the west.
The story of Rachel Dupree, the backbone of her family, a woman who struggled and worked harder than any man ,who struggled thru the births and deaths of her children to take care of her family is a story I wont forget. It feels as if Rachel herself is writing this book and while reading it you truly become her friend and confidant.
I must say that hands down this is the best book I have read all year. I only hope the author writes a sequel because I would love to know Isaac's reaction to the choices Rachel ultimately made.
I won this book at goodreads.com