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February 24, 2024

The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin ~ a Review

by MK French

Ady and her mother Sanite are enslaved to a businessman in the French Quarter of New Orleans, often reminiscing on their family's rebellious history. When separated, Ady is directionless, until she meets Lenore, a free Black woman who invites Ady to become a spy. Their group is called the Daughters, and Ady now chooses liberation and a new future.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of historical fiction novel The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
February 2024; One World; 978-0593729397
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); historical fiction

The framing for this story is that of a historical document being found and commented on; there are so many stories recorded by slaves that clearly had been researched that the author conveys enough realism for Ady's and Sanite's experiences. Slaves in the city had a different experience, just as house slaves had a different experience from those in the fields. The language takes a bit of getting used to at first; the phrases sometimes come across as clunky, as he says "forced slave labor camp also known as a plantation" or "Antoinette also known as Ady" in the beginning. It really slows down the flow of the story, as I'm sure he could have just said "slave labor camp" and Ady, and the reader would know who he's talking about and what he's referring to.

We spend time with Sanite trying her best to shield Ady from the horrors of slavery and what the white people will do while dehumanizing them. Her owner forces attention on Sanite and when his wife complains, sells off their son as chattel. They're beaten after running away, and conditions aren't any better for them once caught. Ady survives, of course, but hers is a hard life even after it changes, full of grief and manipulation in a system designed to break her. She eventually is put in a position to learn about Confederate troop and supply movements. At this point, she and her new friends at the Mockingbird Inn are in danger, as well as the larger movement of spies all across the South. Their efforts bear some fruit, but Ady is never far from danger in a time period when a white man's whims could include her death.

While the conclusion completes the frame of the novel being a found document, I enjoyed it a lot more without that framing story. The narrative of Ady and Sanite's life, of Ady's attempts to move forward as a strong woman and make choices of her own, and the final gesture in the du Marsh townhouse were all compelling enough of a story. She has incredible bravery, even if she doesn't think so, and is an amalgam of all the women whose names we don't know who served in this role during that time period. Their stories were generally not recorded but likely were much like Ady's. I'm glad this one got a chance to be told.

Buy The American Daughters at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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