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Synopsis:

Jedidiah Rogers is the master of Moss Grove, a sprawling plantation north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is a kind, yet pragmatic man who has always treated his slaves well and prides himself on the fact that no slave has ever been sold by Moss Grove. He and his wife, Ruby, lost two young daughters. Only their son, Henry, survived, but he is a disappointment to Jedidiah because he is obstinate, disrespectful, and cruel. In fact, as a teenager, he raped one of the field slaves, Rose, who was just eleven years old. Rose bore a son, Thaddeus — Jedidiah’s only grandchild. Since Jedidiah did not have the heart to send the child away, he gave Thaddeus to Sarah and Jesse, the two house slaves who have loyally served the Rogers for many years, to raise as their own since they were never blessed with children, thus ensuring that Thaddeus will grow up in the household where Jedidiah and Ruby can see and interact with him, but he is never to know the truth about his parentage. Given that Thaddeus is light-skinned, as compared to his adoptive parents, and has the same striking blue eyes as his father, the secret will not keep forever. Rose remains at Moss Grove, the only home she has ever known, and a few years later Jedidiah purchases a handsome slave with a troubled past, Faris, to be her husband. They learn to love each other and their son, Matthew, for the brief time they have together before an unspeakable event separates them forever.

The South is changing. Abolition threatens Southerners’ way of life, and Jedidiah participates in political activities designed to stave off the war that appears inevitable and preserve the South’s economic and cultural structures. Henry has gone away to college, but is busy pursuing wanton nights at brothels rather than his studies. When war looms, he joins the Confederate Army as a Captain, a rank he purchased for himself. Knowing that his parents are aging and he will eventually inherit Moss Grove, Henry decides he should marry. But he has never been interested in any suitable young women, so he decides to marry Elizabeth Williams, the daughter of distant relatives and good friends to his parents. Elizabeth is plain and unsophisticated, unlike her younger sister, Amy, a red-haired, freckled beauty and tomboy who prefers overalls to petticoats.

When Thaddeus and Amy meet as children, they are immediately drawn to each other and become good friends, despite warnings issued to Thaddeus about the impropriety of a friendship between a mixed-race slave and a white girl. Undaunted, they grow closer as the Civil War wreaks havoc on the nation and the Williams family come to stay permanently at Moss Grove. Thaddeus first joins the Confederate Army and comes face-to-face with his birth father for whom he performs a great service. Eventually, Thaddeus returns to the fighting, but on the side of the Union where he meets Rufus and they become the best of friends.

Henry returns to Moss Grove, forever changed by his military experience, and takes his father’s place as the master of Moss Grove. Reconstruction begins. But the war has changed everything and in its aftermath, Henry and his contemporaries rebel against the new way of life that is being imposed upon them. Union troops are installed throughout the South to keep peace and guarantee that the racial equality for which so many made the ultimate sacrifice becomes the rule, rather than the exception. Former slaves are opening businesses, purchasing land to farm, and attempting to make new lives for themselves as free men and women. But the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations like it, not to mention roaming groups of disgruntled former rebel army members, are intent on destroying everything people of color attain and responsible for heinous acts of violence.

Through it all, Thaddeus and Amy’s love for each other never diminishes; it only grows more intense, despite their knowledge that they can never live openly together. Amy would be shunned. More importantly, since their relationship is illegal, Thaddeus could be put to death. They can only enjoy stolen moments alone together, even though all of their close friends are aware of their feelings.

Review:

Author
When Stars Align is a sprawling, ambitious work of fiction set against the backdrop of the most turbulent and destructive period in America’s history. It is a multi-layered tale than spans several decades, a couple of generations, and many different characters whose lives intersect and become intertwined over time. It is a story about the end of one era and the difficult transition into another, and the way real events impacted a group of fictional, but believable characters.

Of particular interest is the distinction between Jedidiah and Henry Rogers. The two men represent more than successive generations of Southerners. They also personify differing philosophies, beliefs, and temperaments. While Jedidiah firmly believes in the Southern way of life, including the ownership of slaves, he is a compassionate man who wants his legacy to reflect his beneficent nature. In contrast, Henry is spoiled, greedy and mean-spirited with a sense of entitlement. Unlike Jedidiah, who believes that he has lived in accordance with the natural order of things, Henry is a true racist — he believes that he is better than people of color. But his mother, Ruby, kept a shocking secret that is not revealed until after both she and Jedidiah are dead. Although its revelation rocks Henry to the core of his being and causes him to act out in horrific ways, he is determined not to let it change him and orders his wife, Elizabeth, never to speak of it again.

Eglash-Kosoff’s scrupulous attention to historical accuracy and painstaking research are evident on every page. She interjects notes about the events of the time period in question — specific Civil War battles and leaders, political forces, economic developments — that place the action in context and help readers appreciate the significance of the characters’ experiences. And there are many memorable characters in this sweeping saga. Remarkably, all have an air of authenticity and most are empathetic, drawn not as caricatures or stereotypes but, rather, as everyday people trying to survive the overwhelming and frequently cataclysmic events to which they are witnesses.

The action never slows in When Stars Align and in the aftermath of the Civil War, the story’s focus shifts from a more global perspective to an intimate, personal look at the lives of the characters. Ever-present is the tenuous, forbidden love Amy and Thaddeus feel for each other, a love they can never live out openly because society still will not tolerate an interracial relationship. Eglash-Kosoff’s theme resonates today because true racial, gender, and sexual orientation equality still have not been achieved in this country and many of our citizens are still fighting for society to view their loving, committed relationships as legitimate and worthy of legal protection.

Readers of historical fiction will enjoy When Stars Align immensely. It is a fascinating, fast-paced exploration of the myriad ways that genuine love survives any and all challenges, carrying a message of hope and assurance that “someday . . . one day . . . when stars align,” there will be social justice in this great land of ours.

I read When Stars Align in conjunction with the 2011 Read ‘n’ Review and Outdo Yourself Reading Challenges.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of When Stars Align free of charge from the author in conjunction with the Pump Up Your Book review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Enter to Win a Copy of When Stars Align

One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of When Stars Align, generously provided by the author.

To enter, simply post a comment! Be sure to include your email address (for notification and delivery purposes). The book can only be shipped to a United States or Canadian address (no P.O. box).


The comment selected by Anita Yancey was selected at random and a copy of When Stars Align is en route to Anita.

Thanks to all who participated!


22 Comments

  1. 🙂 I haven’t read a book with this subject matter in many years. So many different plots in the story. Fascinating characters to read about. Count me in with this book. Thanks.

    makeupgirl21@comcast.net

  2. mamabunny13

    I’m looking forward to reading When Stars Align!
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  3. Seems like interesting book to read. It’s quite a long time process meeting Social Justice. We’ll just have enough patience for whatever reason attaining such Social Justice. Keep posting good books. =)

  4. Mona Garg

    I have always been fascinated by books set in the Civil War era. This sounds like a great saga. Please enter me.

    monagargATyahooDOTcom

  5. Krystal Larson

    I would love to read this, I love this time period and setting. Thank you!

    edysicecreamlover18@gmailDOTcom

  6. thanks for the opportunity to read this novel 🙂

  7. Brittany Gale

    I’d love to read this! Thanks 🙂

    quixoticdreamer(at)hotmail(dot)com

  8. Michelle C

    This is my favorite time in history to read about! Thanks for the chance to win!
    mrsmchappell at gmail dot com

  9. Thanks for this unique and fascinating book which appeals to me greatly.

  10. Samantha

    Omigod a historical novel!! PLEASE ENTER ME!!

  11. Jennifer H.

    Thank you for the giveaway.
    jenhedger at hotmail dot com

  12. Anita Yancey

    Sounds so good. I love all the history in this book. It would make the perfect read this summer. Please enter me. Thanks!

  13. This is the kind of book I love reading on a rainy day snuggled up with a cup of tea and a soft blanket. I’d love to win this book.

  14. I would love to win this book. I love books written in war times and this one would be intersting to see how 2 different races dealt with issues facing them.

  15. Pingback: Semicolon » Blog Archive » Saturday Review of Books: July 23, 2011

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