This is novel is based on the author’s ancestors (or whatever is the best term for past relatives not that deep in the past ultimately). The story primarily follow Vyry, a mixed race woman born into slavery as the product of her white owner/father raping her mother. The story begins in Georgia before the Civil War, carries through the war, following the connections between the Black slaves and the white owners, and then spends about half or more of the rest of the novel in Reconstruction and the backlash against Reconstruction by Southern whites through political and physical violence.
The story is mostly about the definitions of family amid all this turmoil. Not really having a familial connection with her white father, Vyry finds connections with her fellow enslaved people, along with her mother, and when she falls in love with a freeman and asks permission from the owner of the plantation to marry him, her excoriates her for getting pregnant, and essentially asking for her freedom. She didn’t really understand that that’s what she was asking, but his violent reaction becomes a theme that is repeated as Blacks in the South ask for basic rights to life and are met with violence. In plenty of other cases, just existing invites the violent reaction of whites who terrorize them, swindle them, murder them, and do untold number of other atrocities to them. She loses contact with her husband during the war and fearing him dead and needing help and protection, she marries a farmer, and their life together become the heart of the remainder of the novel.
The novel is roughgoing much of the time and often feels like a lowlight reel of racial hatred and violence, so be fair-warned.