Ally Green has at last returned home to Lowcountry, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. She is sixty years old and her father has recently died, so Ally must put his affairs in order. Perhaps she can at last put her life in order, as well. Her father wanted her to stay, but her restless spirit tempts her to begin wandering from place to place again.
Vesey Washington has lived across the creek from Ally’s family his whole life and he is still there. He cared for her father, the local doctor, in his final years and welcomes Ally home. Theirs is a long, richly complex relationship. Ally was drawn to him from the first time she laid eyes on him, in 1950’s America their friendship — much less anything more — was strictly forbidden. They’d sneak off to fish and talk until one day when Ally threw caution to the wind, not realizing that Vesey’s mother was watching. She has always regretted her actions and still feels guilty that Vesey suffered as a result of her carelessness.
Ally traveled the world, collecting stone statues from various countries, all of which she has brought home to place in her parents’ garden. She has also brought with her nearly forty years’ worth of sorrow.
Meanwhile, in faraway Nepal, a woman named Sunila sees the chance for freedom that she has only dared dream about. She knows that she was not born to her parents. They have always told her that she was abandoned when she was just an infant, and they took her in. As a child, she admired the book of angels and gods that the owner of the rock quarry let her peruse. When he elevated her to a stone cutter, he no longer allowed her to gaze at it, but she carved the statues depicted in it from memory, working to pay off her family’s debt and secure their freedom. At last the evil man is dead and she sees an opportunity to escape from the slavery she has known her entire life, not realizing just how far and transforming her journey will be.
Every so often a book draws its reader so completely into the story that the reader both wants to read feverishly to find out how the story ends and is simultaneously sad upon reading the last word because that means that the wonderful relationship he/she is enjoying with the characters and their experiences has concluded. Beyond Molasses Creek is preciously such a book.
Author Nicole Seitz has created a mesmerizing, exquisitely depicted story of two women whose lives have unfolded on opposite sides of the world. But they are connected in the most meaningful way imaginable. Both experience profound sadness and loss, their unrealized dreams depositing them on the brink of despair. Yet the slightest tinge of hope propels them forward toward a future that neither of them could have imagined possible.
To reveal too much about their story would spoil the experience of reading Seitz’s richly layered tale of forgiveness, redemption, hope, and the power of unconditional friendship, all of which are poignantly illustrated through Ally’s complicated but enduring relationship with Vesey, a man of integrity, honor, and profound humility who always understood the things that Ally finally learns only upon her return to her family home. Until the death of her father brought her back home, Ally spent her life traveling the world, seeing all the places Vesey knew nothing about as he remained in South Carolina farming, fishing, and raising three children with his wife, Beulah. With Vesey never far from her thoughts and always in her heart, Ally believed that societal norms and pressures prevented her from being with Vesey, making her as much a victim as the formal caste system that inflicted unspeakable hardships upon Sunila. Vesey always knew where he belonged and what mattered most to him.
The two women relate their stories through alternating first-person narratives. At first, Ally’s return to the river bank, across which lies Vesey’s home, seems to be entirely at odds with Sunila’s escape from the Nepalese rock quarry. But Seitz skillfully provides clues at expertly-timed intervals, gradually allowing her readers to see how Ally and Sunila are connected, and that no aspect of their lives has been coincidental or random. Messages left for Ally by her father, as well as her memories of the wisdom he imparted to her over the years and Vesey’s boundless compassion and friendship, demonstrate that her journey has led her to one defining, climactic moment after which her life will never be the same.
Vividly descriptive and emotionally satisfying on every level, Beyond Molasses Creek is a rare treasure: a moving story that continues to resonate and begs to be re-read in order to experience Seitz’s beautifully crafted tale on a deeper level given that the outcome is already known. Beyond Molasses Creek would make an excellent book club selection because the varied themes and symbolism lend themselves to meaningful discussion.