“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm”
In order to read this book you probably shouldn’t know anything about it. I’d heard it was about a black woman time traveling back to the antebellum south and I thought it was about the coolest concept ever. Time travel, check. Moral dilemmas, check. An exploration of the consequences of time travel for non-white, non-male people? Super check!
And the opening line was just simple, intriguing. I was dying to know more.
So it’s 1976. Dana is 26, newly-wed to a white man named Kevin and they’re moving into their first home together. But then she gets dizzy and next thing she knows she waking up next to a river where a white boy is drowning. She saves him only to be confronted by an angry white man pointing a gun in her face.
Then she’s back home, wet and muddy and her husband hardly knows what to believe. And this is where the book just sort of stopped. Dana keeps being called back in time to save this white boy, Rufus, even as he grows into a man. We’re told it’s because it’s her ancestor, but really it just seemed like a thinly veiled excuse for exploring slavery in the south. Which I would be fine with if it was done in any sort of satisfactory way.
The book becomes just a bit too plotty. Dana meets so many strong interesting characters struggling with conflicting feelings about slavery; hating being a slave, but feeling attached to their families and friends, feeling hateful, yet loyal to their master. But we never get to know them and not in a “slavery is so fickle and people are constantly sold or killed”-way. Just it’s all about Dana and her quest to save her white ancestor. The plot gets in the way of the story, why bother introducing all these great characters if you’re not going to explore their lives in any way?
Dana as a character becomes less and less likable. She is never forced to really accept slavery. She is treated differently because of her connection to Rufus and she remains aloof and separate from it the entire time. When she is forced to deal with the very real ramifications of slavery she refuses to accept them, but she never really stands up for herself or the other slaves.
I feel like this book was too short – it oversimplifies a lot of the nuance in favor of plot. And it was such a great concept that unfortunately it execution could not carry.