“Here’s the first thing you need to know about Miss Cathy Williams: I am the daughter of a daughter of a queen and my mama never let me forget it."
21 Bookers braved our beautiful Texas Spring weather to gather at the home of Patty Evans to discuss this month’s selection led by Katherine McDonald. A big howdy to Katherine’s sister, Debbie, visiting from the Golden State who is also an avid reader. It was wonderful to see Pat Reid …we’ve missed you and hope you will join us again. We continue to receive some encouraging information on how our friend, Sheri Green, is doing and we are all so happy she is feeling like getting out a little more! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see her at Bookers! As friends and Bookers, we strive to walk in other’s shoes and sometimes those shoes are filled with struggles. We often feel helpless, but we might dwell in silence today for those in need of some positive thoughts.
This historical fiction is based on the life of former slave, Cathy Williams, the first woman to enlist in the peacetime U.S. Army, and the only to ever serve (1866-1868) with the fabled Buffalo Soldiers. This cavalry of African Americans mainly served on the Western frontier after the Civil War, their tasks included helping to control the Native Americans of the Plains, capture cattle rustlers, protect settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews. Their nickname, dubbed by the Native Americans, remains a mystery, but one theory claims it arose because of the soldiers’ dark curly hair resembled the fur of a buffalo and/or because they fought so valiantly and fiercely, the Indians revered them as they did the mighty buffalo.
Cathy Williams, born into bondage on a tobacco farm in Missouri was never allowed to consider herself a slave as, according to her mother, she was a captive destined by her noble warrior blood to escape the enemy. Her chance at freedom arrived in the form of Union general Phillip Henry Sheridan and at the end of the Civil War she refuses to return to servitude, making the monumental decision to disguise herself as a man and join the Buffalo Soldiers. She’s now a woman fighting for freedom, respect, and independence inside a man’s world facing monumental daily challenges to keep her secret while vowing to search for her mother, sister, and the love of her “dying soldier.”
Katherine McDonald armed with extensive research and passion walked us through the novel with her usual flair and visuals. Thank you for your thoroughness! Ms. Bird took a little-known piece of history and created a novel around it, and as Katherine said, literary license accounted for about 97% of the narrative. The story may have never been documented unless a reporter for the St. Louis Daily News interviewed Cathy in 1876 where she offered her story to the world. Incredibly it was not until Executive Order 9981 issued by President Harry S. Truman in 1948 abolished discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in the U.S. Armed Forces. We talked about Cathy’s comment that “royal blood runs purple” through her veins and how she saw herself through the lens of her family history. The realities of a soldier’s life was vividly portrayed existing on “forty miles a day on beans and hay.” Cathy envisioned herself as a captive, not a slave – the difference being a captive is imprisoned and a slave is owned as property – and if she gave into her circumstances, she would lose the strength and magical powers of her ancestry. We talked about the villains in the camp and how she effected revenge on them…personally a rattlesnake dead or alive in my bed would prompt me to abandon army life. Cathy was a trailblazer (literally) in the same vein as women like Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, who in 1842 became the first computer programmer; the black women behind the book, Hidden Figures, who helped the space race beginning in the 1930’s; and of course my favorite, Nancy Johnson who in 1843 invented the ice cream freezer. We discussed the surprise ending of the book – whether satisfactory or heartbreaking – a little of both in my opinion. Some of the critical points, offered by other reviewers, detailed a white woman’s capacity to capture the voice of a black woman without becoming cliché; the “sex” scene with the prostitute; and Cathy as a main character with so much “grit and determination” moons over a man she spent a couple of days with while he was almost comatose. Our group as a whole read and enjoyed the story and I hope those who will be attending the Books in Bloom luncheon with the author come away with some new perspectives on Cathy and her journey.
On the business side:
Please continue to recommend books to the selection committee for consideration for next year. We talked about a few of those today and I’ll send the information to them from my notes. Many thanks to Bonnie for expressing our gratitude to the committee for their excellent choices so far this year and we look forward to another wonderful slate in the coming year.
Once again Bonnie Magee is coordinating our food for the evening May meeting. The request was sent out today so please respond directly to her with your choices.
I recently introduced Bookers to BookBub for consideration of a spotlight on their blog. I told them about us, where we live, the dynamics of our community, when we meet, and a snippet of the books we loved, the ones that surprised us, the ones creating the most debate, and the ones that disappointed. I received a response from them saying “our group sounds incredible – I love your “one rule” of not saying you didn’t like the book if you didn’t read it.” He said he would keep our information on file and be in touch regarding upcoming spotlights. You can go to https://www.bookbub.com/blog/book-clubs.com to see other spotlights.
Remember Monica Shaw, author of the debut novel The Rainwater Secret, who visited us in March of 2018. She was interviewed on Good Morning Texas last month in celebration of National Women’s History Month, the theme was Visionary Women fitting right into her factual historical fiction centered around her great aunt who as part of the Medical Missionaries of Mary devoted her life to teaching leper children in Africa. She’s worked very hard promoting her book and for an indie debut author it has paid off!
Delia Owens, author of our May selection, Where the Crawdads Sing, fascinating story on YouTube. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9KKzX6j9G8 Many thanks to Pam Davis for sending me the link. We will anticipate Jean’s presentation of this wonderful book in May.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
May 14: Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Set in the 1950’s in very rural North Carolina revolving around a young woman named Kya Clark – celebrating strength through tragedy and the resourcefulness of a child left to fend for herself in the swamp.
Discussion Leader: Jean Alexander
Bonnie Magee will again coordinate the “menu.”
Evening Wine & Cheese Meeting at the home of Melanie Prebis 6:00 pm
Summer Read: The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett