The Indigo Girl: A Novel
By Natasha Boyd
Read by Saskia Maarleveld
Format: Digital Download
Available Formats : Digital Download, CD, MP3 CD, Hardcover
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
The year is 1739. Eliza Lucas is sixteen years old when her father leaves her in charge of their family’s three plantations in rural South Carolina and then proceeds to bleed the estates dry in pursuit of his military ambitions. Tensions with the British, and with the Spanish in Florida, just a short way down the coast, are rising, and slaves are starting to become restless. Her mother wants nothing more than for their South Carolina endeavor to fail so they can go back to England. Soon her family is in danger of losing everything.
Upon hearing how much the French pay for indigo dye, Eliza believes it’s the key to their salvation. But everyone tells her it’s impossible, and no one will share the secret to making it. Thwarted at nearly every turn, even by her own family, Eliza finds that her only allies are an aging horticulturalist, an older and married gentleman lawyer, and a slave with whom she strikes a dangerous deal: teach her the intricate thousand-year-old secret process of making indigo dye and in return—against the laws of the day—she will teach the slaves to read.
So begins an incredible story of love, dangerous and hidden friendships, ambition, betrayal, and sacrifice.
Based on historical documents, including Eliza’s letters, this is a historical fiction account of how a teenage girl produced indigo dye, which became one of the largest exports out of South Carolina, an export that laid the foundation for the incredible wealth of several Southern families who still live on today. Although largely overlooked by historians, the accomplishments of Eliza Lucas influenced the course of US history. When she passed away in 1793, President George Washington served as a pallbearer at her funeral.
This book is set between 1739 and 1744, with romance, intrigue, forbidden friendships, and political and financial threats weaving together to form the story of a remarkable young woman whose actions were before their time: the story of the indigo girl.
This is a fascinating piece of historical fiction with, I believe, a lot of research, but possibly not enough findings available. The story of a 16 year-old young woman being left to manage her father’s holdings in South Carolina as he goes off to pursue his expensive military career in the mid-1700s is an absolutely tantalizing idea.
Between Eliza’a father’s obviously ruinous business practices and the expenses of his military commissions, this child would need the business acumen of Warren Buffet, the diplomatic skill of Senator George Mitchell (Retired) and the authority granted to any white male. Needless to say, Eliza is a natural at the first, a quick study on the second, and unlikely to become a male.
When you give a young lady wrestling with the immorality of slavery and racism, and some personal experience with a friend her father could sell, there’s going to be an issue. Add in a mother, embarrassed and resentful that Eliza’s father imbues her with so much authority over the estate and you get a very human family drama. That this brilliant woman was dissed because she was female, and young is depressing — that women, and people of color, still face these struggles is even more so.
The narrator offers a wonderful interpretation of the character: smart and mature beyond her years — but still a teen — dumped with a ton of responsibility but without the authority of a man in a man’s world. She gives the character a lot of nuance: cultured and educated, a little prissy, innocent and then angry as her innocence is stripped away by betrayal and slavery’s worst secrets. I found the narration delivered a girl’s voice, confused by her attraction her father’s former slave, and to her friend’s husband.
The writing feels a little precious, and weighed down with detail. Though billed as “adult” it is fine for anyone who’s begun dating. Though non-consensual sex between a slave and an overseer is implied, there’s no sexual romance. It brings up this topic and offers a way to discuss it that doesn’t judge the woman.
Much is implied about the mysterious nature of indigo extraction but it is not well explained.
But, unsurprisingly, I felt there wasn’t a lot of information in the historical record for the author; the efforts of one young woman, no matter how unconventional, are unlikely to be recorded or honored in official records. But it is obvious that the writer understands the importance of a new, and incredibly valuable, crop. There are a lot of issues involved in this novel: women’s rights, slavery, rape and parental responsibility to children. You might be surprised by how the differences and similarities between then and now are described. But, even then people of conscience existed and they wrestled with these moral dilemmas even if they could do nothing to change them.
AMAZON (PRE-ORDER): https://www.amazon.com/Indigo-Girl-Novel-Natasha-Boyd-ebook/dp/B072L2N87W/