Cane River begins with Elisabeth — Tademy's great-great-great-great-grandmother — and focuses on three women marked by her strength, her pride, and her instinct for survival.
Elisabeth's youngest daughter, and the first to discover the promise — and heartbreak — of freedom. Determined to speak cultured French and receive Holy Communion in a church, Suzette dreams of marrying a boy from the gens de couleur libre — the free people of color. At the age of fourteen, she wakes up to the nightmare of bearing the child of the French man who forced himself upon her. She vows to give her daughter the life and the love she could only imagine.
Suzette's alluring, strong-willed, and resourceful daughter. Against her mother's wishes, Philomene loses her heart and virginity to a handsome, dark-skinned slave — before her fifteenth birthday. After suffering a series of crushing blows and unspeakable losses, she sets her mind on ensuring her family's protection. Leveraging her gift for "glimpsing" into the future and the lust of a prominent, long married, and childless French land owner, Philomene finds a way to gain unheard of economic independence and give her precious daughter the promise of a better life.
Philomene's beautiful and cherished daughter — and the first of her family to be born a free woman. Protected by her mother and adored by her white father, Emily grows up full of laughter and confidence. Sent to school in New Orleans, she learns to read — and wins the heart of her father's young friend, an up-and-coming French businessman. Defying society, Emily and her young man, Joseph, live together as husband and wife — even if the law forbids their marriage. The decision has tragic consequences. Emily faces the harsh reality — and danger —of racism. With the help of her family, she fights to secure her children's just due and preserve their future. Bringing to life a slice of American history at once devastating and uplitfing, Cane River is a completely absorbing and deeply affecting work. The women who changed the life of Lalita Tademy will touch the hearts of readers, and continue to inspire great admiration and thoughtful reflection long after the final page.