Lalita Tademy left her job as vice-president of Sun Microsystems in 1995 to devote her energy to untangling the roots of her family tree and telling the remarkable story of her ancestors. The result is her first book, Cane River.
The Inevitable Telling of Cane River
My great grandmother Emily was born a slave in Cane River, just as the Civil War was beginning. Her mother Philomene, and her grandmother Suzette were also born there. Emily's great grandmother Elisabeth came from Virginia, not Louisiana, according to records I found, and she appeared in Cane River some time before 1820, when she was still in her teens. Cane River, the novel, is an attempt to capture the stories of these remarkable women.
A few years ago, after a long search, I found the Bill of Sale of my great great great great grandmother Elisabeth. In 1850, she was sold for at least the second time, away from her Cane River family, for $800. Holding a copy of that Bill of Sale in my hands was a life-changing event for me. By then, I had already left my very good job as a vice president for a high technology Fortune 500 company, for reasons I couldn't explain to anyone, even myself, and I was spending a majority of my time poring over old records and making research trips back to Louisiana from my home in California. I had spent almost two years obsessively researching my family tree. After finding that Bill of Sale, what had started as an absorbing and interesting project to chart my family's lineage suddenly became even more personal, in ways I could not have anticipated.
Looking backwards, my writing of Cane River seems inevitable, but in the beginning, I had no intentions of writing a book. But the more I dug, and the more facts I uncovered, the more the women of Cane River began to speak to me, one at a time. I had been toying with the idea of putting something down in print about my ancestors, but the Bill of Sale changed my internal debate away from whether I should write a book, and directed it toward how to tell the stories.
Cane River covers 137 years of my family's history, written as fiction, but deeply rooted in years of research, historical fact, and family lore. In piecing together events from personal and public sources, especially when they conflicted, I relied on my own intuition. There were gaps I filled in based on research into the events and mood of the place and time. I presupposed motivations. Occasionally, I changed a name, date, or circumstance to accommodate narrative flow. I tried to capture the essence of truth, if not always the precision of fact, and trust that the liberties I have taken will be forgiven.
I hope Cane River touches readers as a universal story of resilience and strength. I am especially pleased with the cover of the book. The woman standing beside the oak tree staring out to the future is my great grandmother Emily. I think she, and the others who came before her, would be honored to have you hear her story.