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An award-winning novel with incredible heart, about life on the prairie as it's rarely been seen When Rachel, hired help in a Chicago boardinghouse, falls in love with Isaac, the boardinghouse owner's son, he makes her a bargain: he'll marry her, but only if she gives up her 160 acres from the Homestead Act so he can double his share. She agrees, and together they stake t An award-winning novel with incredible heart, about life on the prairie as it's rarely been seen When Rachel, hired help in a Chicago boardinghouse, falls in love with Isaac, the boardinghouse owner's son, he makes her a bargain: he'll marry her, but only if she gives up her 160 acres from the Homestead Act so he can double his share. She agrees, and together they stake their claim in the forebodingly beautiful South Dakota Badlands. Fourteen years later, in the summer of 1917, the cattle are bellowing with thirst. It hasn't rained in months, and supplies have dwindled. Pregnant, and struggling to feed her family, Rachel is isolated by more than just geography. She is determined to give her surviving children the life they deserve, but she knows that her husband, a fiercely proud former Buffalo Soldier, will never leave his ranch: black families are rare in the West, and land means a measure of equality with the white man. Somehow Rachel must find the strength to do what is right-for herself, and for her children. Reminiscent of The Color Purple as well as the frontier novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree opens a window on the little-known history of African American homesteaders and gives voice to an extraordinary heroine who embodies the spirit that built America.


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An award-winning novel with incredible heart, about life on the prairie as it's rarely been seen When Rachel, hired help in a Chicago boardinghouse, falls in love with Isaac, the boardinghouse owner's son, he makes her a bargain: he'll marry her, but only if she gives up her 160 acres from the Homestead Act so he can double his share. She agrees, and together they stake t An award-winning novel with incredible heart, about life on the prairie as it's rarely been seen When Rachel, hired help in a Chicago boardinghouse, falls in love with Isaac, the boardinghouse owner's son, he makes her a bargain: he'll marry her, but only if she gives up her 160 acres from the Homestead Act so he can double his share. She agrees, and together they stake their claim in the forebodingly beautiful South Dakota Badlands. Fourteen years later, in the summer of 1917, the cattle are bellowing with thirst. It hasn't rained in months, and supplies have dwindled. Pregnant, and struggling to feed her family, Rachel is isolated by more than just geography. She is determined to give her surviving children the life they deserve, but she knows that her husband, a fiercely proud former Buffalo Soldier, will never leave his ranch: black families are rare in the West, and land means a measure of equality with the white man. Somehow Rachel must find the strength to do what is right-for herself, and for her children. Reminiscent of The Color Purple as well as the frontier novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree opens a window on the little-known history of African American homesteaders and gives voice to an extraordinary heroine who embodies the spirit that built America.

30 review for The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

  1. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I read author Ann Weisgarber’s sophomore novel, The Promise a few years back and knew immediately that I must backtrack and read her debut, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, nominated for an Orange Prize in 2009. Reading her first novel NOW seemed the perfect time, as The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, is slated for the big screen (produced by Viola Davis, who is also playing the lead)! I cannot wait to gather some girlfriends together to watch this. Yes, I’m one of those people who wan I read author Ann Weisgarber’s sophomore novel, The Promise a few years back and knew immediately that I must backtrack and read her debut, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, nominated for an Orange Prize in 2009. Reading her first novel NOW seemed the perfect time, as The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, is slated for the big screen (produced by Viola Davis, who is also playing the lead)! I cannot wait to gather some girlfriends together to watch this. Yes, I’m one of those people who wants to read the book first, to compare. Rachel Dupree will transport you to the unforgiving climate of South Dakota’s Badlands and introduce you to a strong black woman – a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister – of iron will, a woman ahead of her time in many ways. She and her husband Isaac are among only a handful of African Americans staking a claim in the area. You will feel the isolation, the scratches of dryness in your own parched throat, and feel the pangs of thirst these characters experience with the lack of rain. You’ll hear the wind, you’ll see the desolate plains. Your heart will ache with the hardships of frontier living during the early 1900s. And you will likely cry. Layered thematically with insight about racism, perceptions about women and their place in society – their value; and about war, secrecy, and sacrifice, this is, at its heart, a story of man’s ambition and what happens when it is all-consuming. This story also asks: what is love? But it’s about so much more: it’s about the American dream of land ownership; it’s about family, transgressions, grief, and finding happiness in the smallest of pleasures. It’s a story about tough decisions and the long-lasting consequences of making them. I was struck by this quote by Rachel, in the novel: “Isaac hated Indians but that didn’t make it right. It didn’t mean I had to. It didn’t mean I had to hold on to grievances that were never mine.” For those who enjoy emotionally laden, beautifully-rendered historical fiction, strong female characters, and themes about women’s strength, as well as first-person point of view stories, this is a book I highly recommend. And guess what? Weisgarber also has a new book coming in February, 2019, called The Glovemaker. It sounds equally wonderful! You can bet it’s on my TBR already. SO looking forward to it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Rachel works as a cook at a boardinghouse for negro men who work at the slaughterhouses in Chicago. The boardinghouse is owned by Mrs. Dupree, a widow. When her son Issac returns from military service he sees an opportunity to gain more land for his homestead claim by marrying Rachel. She is infatuated by Issac and agrees. So begins their life together in the Badlands in South Dakota. Issac continues to buy land from those who csnnot sustain their ranches. For Issac land is everything. Rachel su Rachel works as a cook at a boardinghouse for negro men who work at the slaughterhouses in Chicago. The boardinghouse is owned by Mrs. Dupree, a widow. When her son Issac returns from military service he sees an opportunity to gain more land for his homestead claim by marrying Rachel. She is infatuated by Issac and agrees. So begins their life together in the Badlands in South Dakota. Issac continues to buy land from those who csnnot sustain their ranches. For Issac land is everything. Rachel supports Issac but longs for his heart. When the Dust Bowl hits, Issac and Rachel must make some difficult decisions at the sacrific of their children. Supplies are limited, and Rachel does her best to keep food on the table. Issac fought against the Lakota Indians and does not want Rachel to have any association with them. Rachel longs for the companionship of neighbors, all the more difficult when most are white. Narrated by Rachel, I felt her pain and struggled and the desires she holds for her children. A grest historical novel that explores the little known journey of negro pioneers. The book was clearly well researched.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Shari Larsen

    This is the story of Rachel Dupree, wife of one of the few African American ranchers in the South Dakota Badlands in 1917. As the story opens, Isaac is lowering their six year old daughter Liz into the well to fetch water in the midst of a terrible drought. Rachel knows it must be done, yet at that moment, she questions her loyalty to Isaac, whose ambitions to own more land seems to come ahead of the needs of his family. Rachel, who is pregnant with her eighth child, has to decide whether to sta This is the story of Rachel Dupree, wife of one of the few African American ranchers in the South Dakota Badlands in 1917. As the story opens, Isaac is lowering their six year old daughter Liz into the well to fetch water in the midst of a terrible drought. Rachel knows it must be done, yet at that moment, she questions her loyalty to Isaac, whose ambitions to own more land seems to come ahead of the needs of his family. Rachel, who is pregnant with her eighth child, has to decide whether to staying with Isaac is best for her and the children, or if she should take them back to her hometown of Chicago. I really enjoyed this book. The story is told from Rachel's point of view, and the writing makes you feel like you are right in that place and time with her. The descriptions of the hardships of the drought made me feel thankful that I do not live in a place where I have to worry about not having enough water. I just wish the book had been a little longer, an epilogue would have been nice telling of the repercussions of the decision that Rachel finally made.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    This story was filled with a variety of dynamics not usually combined together. It is what makes this book so interesting! Weisgarber sets the stage of a Negro woman/family's life owning a cattle ranch in the Badlands of South Dakota in 1917. A far cry from the Historical Fiction books from the Civil Rights or Slavery era I find myself reading a lot. Based on the Homestead Act, Weisgarber combines fact and fiction is this wonderful enlightening story of Rachel DuPree's life. I thoroughly enjoy i This story was filled with a variety of dynamics not usually combined together. It is what makes this book so interesting! Weisgarber sets the stage of a Negro woman/family's life owning a cattle ranch in the Badlands of South Dakota in 1917. A far cry from the Historical Fiction books from the Civil Rights or Slavery era I find myself reading a lot. Based on the Homestead Act, Weisgarber combines fact and fiction is this wonderful enlightening story of Rachel DuPree's life. I thoroughly enjoy it!!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Audra (Unabridged Chick)

    This is the kind of book that makes me joyful as a reader. It's immediately engrossing, it illuminates a life that is otherwise foreign to me, and paints real landscapes and situations I've never experienced. Set in 1917 at a ranch in South Dakota by the Badlands, the story is told by Rachel DuPree, an African-American woman who married an ambitious man, whose entire identity and self-value is tied up in the land he owns. The book opens with a punch: a longstanding drought requires the extreme This is the kind of book that makes me joyful as a reader. It's immediately engrossing, it illuminates a life that is otherwise foreign to me, and paints real landscapes and situations I've never experienced. Set in 1917 at a ranch in South Dakota by the Badlands, the story is told by Rachel DuPree, an African-American woman who married an ambitious man, whose entire identity and self-value is tied up in the land he owns. The book opens with a punch: a longstanding drought requires the extreme measure of lowering the smallest child into the ranch's well in order to scoop up what water may be had. From the beginning, Rachel is torn between desperately wanting the water to keep her children and livestock alive yet wracked with horror at her acquiescence of this act. This book is emotional but not out of any lurid or melodramatic scenes -- instead, the oomph comes from the hard reality of life for Rachel and her children. Alternating between Rachel's present and flashing back to how she ended up in South Dakota in 1917, we learn about two hard, determined people -- Rachel and her husband Isaac -- and the results of a gamble and a hope. The grim basis of Rachel and Isaac's marriage was what grabbed at my heart the most -- it was at times beautiful and at times horrifically cruel. But I could completely appreciate Rachel's loyalty and the choices she made because she was such a real character. Race, understandably, features in this novel: the discussion of skin color shade among the society African-Americans in Chicago, the perception of Booker T. Washington and Ida B. Wells in the African-American community, and the 'us-vs-them' story created by the homesteaders and settlers to differentiate themselves from the Native Americans on the reservations in South Dakota. Class and education also affect the story and characters, as both Rachel and Isaac want something more for themselves and their children -- but have wildly differing ideas as to what that means. Again, what was so compelling for me as I read was this marriage and Rachel's challenge to balance her happiness, her children's well-being, and her husband's wishes with what she thinks is right. Upon finishing, I immediately thought two things: one, that one should vacation to the Badlands because they are staggeringly gorgeous but OMG, I never want to live there again; and two, that I wanted there to be another book. Although the ending of this one was perfect, I could have used another 300 pages or a second volume to follow Rachel and her family some more. I was reminded a bit of Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter (a favorite of mine that I never wanted to end!). This would make an excellent book club selection since the themes of family, obligation, compromise in marriage, and prejudice are common ones. Apparently this book has been optioned for a film, so read it now before the movie is released!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn Green

    I listened to this on audiobook, and the narrator is excellent. I LOVE this novel for giving me a glimpse into the life of a black woman married to a rancher who made use of the Homestead Act. Not only did we get to see what it was like for her in the Badlands, but we also saw pieces of her life in Chicago when she worked at a boardinghouse. The protagonist, Rachel, has a strong and vivid first-person voice, and her thoughts and reactions to her circumstances seem heartbreakingly realistic. Not I listened to this on audiobook, and the narrator is excellent. I LOVE this novel for giving me a glimpse into the life of a black woman married to a rancher who made use of the Homestead Act. Not only did we get to see what it was like for her in the Badlands, but we also saw pieces of her life in Chicago when she worked at a boardinghouse. The protagonist, Rachel, has a strong and vivid first-person voice, and her thoughts and reactions to her circumstances seem heartbreakingly realistic. Not only is she navigating a marriage of convenience, but she's a mother of five, with no neighbors in the Badlands, and must reconcile her husband's hatred of "Agency Indians" with her own experience with Mrs. Fills-the-Pipe. The story kept me fully engaged, but it felt to me like it got cut off in the middle! I need a sequel. There was so much left unresolved. I don't need novels to all have happy, tidy endings all tied up in a bow, but this ending was not satisfying to me. I can use my imagination to wrap up Rachel's story in my mind, but I really wanted at least an epilogue. This is my great disappointment with The Personal History of Rachel DuPree. It feels unfinished. However, having said that, I'm still glad I read it and appreciate gaining the perspective of a black family trying to ranch in the West in the early 1900s. I'd never read about this before, and I'm sure the character of Rachel will stick with me for a long time. I loved her. I'll be reading more from this author.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dustin Crazy little brown owl

    At the door on summer evenings, Sat the little Hiawatha; Heard the whispering of the pine-trees, Heard the lapping of the waters, Sounds of music, words of wonder. - Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Black, White and Native American lives intersect in the Badlands of South Dakota. Rachel DuPree recounts a captivating tale of heart and homestead. Music, dancing and poetry all play their role in this story of secrets and decisions. I think this is another of the many titles I picked up while workin At the door on summer evenings, Sat the little Hiawatha; Heard the whispering of the pine-trees, Heard the lapping of the waters, Sounds of music, words of wonder. - Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Black, White and Native American lives intersect in the Badlands of South Dakota. Rachel DuPree recounts a captivating tale of heart and homestead. Music, dancing and poetry all play their role in this story of secrets and decisions. I think this is another of the many titles I picked up while working at Borders 2010-2011. I'm finally getting around to reading the book in 2020. I like to use audiobooks for most of my books (whenever available), and follow along with a printed copy. I recently found a library with an audiobook to help me. The library I borrowed from, wanted this item back within a week, so I listened and made notes at full-speed, end of November 2020. I'm using this title as part of the Dare to Dream Group's Fall Reading Challenge for a title with the letters L-O-O and a story with a rural setting. Favorite Passages: He could give a person the worst chore and make that person feel honored to be chosen. I'd had fourteen years to try to understand this about Isaac, about how he made this happen. This was what I'd come up with. It was because his eyes admired you for bearing up, and when he looked at you that way, there was nothing finer. And there was this, too, about Isaac. He didn't shy away from any chore. He knew what had to be done, and he did it. ________ Its walls were nothing but squares of sod. The ceilings sagged. The floors were dirt. Summers, grass grew on the inside walls and I'd take a match and burn the shoots to keep the prairie from staking a claim on the inside of our home. Most folks in the Badlands that stayed longer than three years built themselves wood houses. These houses weren't grand, far from it. Most of the houses were low to the ground and not all that much bigger than a dugout. but Isaac held off for twelve years, not wanting to spend money on lumber. I imagined that gave folks around here something to talk about. But likely they talked anyway. We were the only Negroes in these parts. _______ It was so big. All that land and sky, all that openness; there was no end to any of it. It made me feel small. It gave me a bad feeling. I didn't belong; this place called for bigger things than me. If for one second I lost sight of Isaac, I'd be alone and lost in this country that didn't have any edges. I said to him, "Will we be all right here?" "I told you this wasn't anything like Chicago." _______ There was something about slaughterhouse work that soured a man; even my mother said so. He could start off all right, but if he stayed more than a year, the work laid him low. Killing animals for a living broke a man's dreams, turned him bitter and mean. Or turned him to drink. That wasn't the kind of man I wanted. I wanted a man what aimed to better himself, what wasn't afraid to look inside a book, and was willing to save his money for something grander than a pint of beer. _______ Isaac DuPree was a man set apart. _______ . . . his voice carried me out of the kitchen so that I was someplace else altogether. _______ "He even delivered a baby." "Baby?" Bill Miller said. "There's women out there?" Isaac shifted his attention from his mother to Bill Miller. "Sure. Some of the soldiers are married." "But what about Indians?" Robert Bailey said. "Seen any?" "Hell, yes," and then Isaac held up his hands. "Sorry, Mother." _______ I thought about old newspaper accounts that told of red savages what drank the blood of little white children. That was after they'd scalped them, after they'd driven hatchets into the hearts of their fathers and ruined the honor of their mothers. _______ "The Homestead Act doesn't care about the color of a man's skin. A man's a man in the West." . . . "It's right here in black and white, men. Can't get much truer than that. Here's how it works. You stake out the one sixty, give them eighteen dollars at the nearest land office - they call that a filing fee - and then you put up a house and farm five acres. Live on it for three years and it's all yours." _______ Mrs. DuPree was on her way down, I told myself, but the next Mrs. DuPree - me - was on her way up. _______ Eleven days ago Isaac DuPree had walked into the boardinghouse, and without giving it a thought, he'd made every one of us want something big. _______ I had sold myself for a hundred and sixty acres of land. _______ After a while, Fred said something about the battle of Wounded Knee Creek. . . . . "Always wished I'd been there." "No. You don't. It was the bloodiest thing I've ever seen." Isaac picked up his fork, put it back down. "The snow. God, I'll never forget that red snow." _______ It was our first summer in the Badlands when the Indian woman showed up. The memory of her came to me as clear as if it had just happened. It was so clear that I recalled the color of her dress, a faded blue. _______ (view spoiler)[I had been willing to strike a bargain: a hundred and sixty acres for a chance to be his wife for a year. That year slid into fourteen. It happened because I closed my mind to the idea that an ambitious man cared mostly about what he wanted. I helped Isaac get his land, and I helped him keep it. (hide spoiler)] _______ I snapped my dishcloth at the flies crawling over the countertop. All at once a pushed-away memory rose up in my mind. I stared out the kitchen window as the memory took shape. _______ The rain was harder. Thunder surrounded us with its crashes; lightning lit up the room and just as quick, left us in the gloom. "Just a storm," I told the crying girls. "We're all right, just a little thunder." _______ "There's plenty of room, she said, though I didn't see where. That is the most crowded house I've ever been in." . . . . "Mindy cleared a spot the width of a toothpick in front of the stove. That's where she put me. Mary slept under the kitchen table, Rounder on one side of her, Al's hound dog on the other. John bunked with their oldest boy." _______ "And right before bedtime, there was a bunch of loud thunder, and we were all sitting in the kitchen when this ball of fire came down the stovepipe. It was this big." His cupped hands showed the size of a popcorn ball. "It was shooting sparks clear across the room. You should've seen it. It went round and round the cookstove, sizzling and cracking just like this." He filled up his cheeks and made exploding sounds. _______ (view spoiler)[Pain squeezed my chest. Johnny couldn't be dead. But the words were on paper, and those papers were in my hands, and that made it true. (hide spoiler)] _______ Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelu . . . jah! . . . . Jordan's river is chilly and cold, Hallelu . . . jah. Chills the body but not the soul, Hallelu . . . jah. _______ "Why'd they hurt him that way?" "I don't know," I said. "Some people carry hate, looks like. They don't need a reason to hurt somebody; they see their chance and they take it." _______ ". . . on summer nights in Chicago, when it was too hot to sleep, Mr. Brandon, a little tipsy, would come out on his front stoop and play that fiddle of his. His music pulled us to him; we couldn't help ourselves no matter how tired we were. We'd get out of our sticky, hot beds, make ourselves decent, and go outside. That man made us forget who we were." _______ Get out the way for old Dan Tucker He's too late to get his supper. . . . . Now old Dan Tucker is come to town Swinging the ladies round and round First to the right and then to the left Then to the girl that he loves best. ________ When we first came out to the Badlands, Isaac was sure the country would fill up with Negroes. That hadn't happened. The barn was quiet. Even the crickets had stopped their chirping. (view spoiler)[ But the biggest quiet came from Jerseybell. Her breathing had stilled and her chest wasn't shuddering. I pulled my handkerchief form my sleeve. "Honey," I said. "Jerseybell's dead." (hide spoiler)] _______ "Getting a baby born is hard work. You two'll go on to bed tonight, like always. When I need you - if I do - I'll wake you." "Yes, Mama," Mary said. "All right then." I put my mind to what came next. "You've seen calves being born. It's the same way for babies." Mary and John sucked in air. I had shocked them. I said, "I'll be bearing down, pushing to get the baby out. You might have to help; you might have to pull it out some." _______ From far away, someone cried. Then the knife, held by a firm hand, cut me. _______ I looked past her. Spread out before me was the Badlands. When I was new to it, its bigness scared me. There wasn't any end to it. There was nothing but canyons that cut the earth, knee-high prairie grasses that rippled and swayed like they were alive, and ranges of buttes rising sharp against the sky. The Badlands scared me, but as long as I was with Isaac, I was where I wanted to be.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    The voice of Rachel DuPree drew me in on this one so it was a quick read. Very conversational tone, succinct sentences, written in such a way that you feel like you're listening to the innermost thoughts of the character. She does give you a lot of back story as she narrates, so if you're the kind of person who hates that, you might not like it. In this case, it didn't bother me because it worked for story. It's about a woman who comes to realize (like duh) how the choices one makes for love, act The voice of Rachel DuPree drew me in on this one so it was a quick read. Very conversational tone, succinct sentences, written in such a way that you feel like you're listening to the innermost thoughts of the character. She does give you a lot of back story as she narrates, so if you're the kind of person who hates that, you might not like it. In this case, it didn't bother me because it worked for story. It's about a woman who comes to realize (like duh) how the choices one makes for love, actually affects their innocent children. It's also really about Isaac DuPree, the ambitious, self-centered man that Rachel marries because all she can think is how she must be so lucky because a man like him chooses her. Ugh. She moves away from her home in Chicago, to the South Dakota Badlands, where she has to learn how to do the kind of ranch work that a city girl has no clue about. And the thing that comes first for her husband, is not his children or his wife, rather, it is his land ownership.Not that Rachel just blames her husband because in the story, she tells you how she knew this upfront. The story here really is about hard-working people trying to make a name for themselves, about a family that manages to achieve what some saw as impossible, but it's also about what pride will do to people when they only care about what the world thinks of them. I loved hearing the narrator's point of views, making it so easy to empathize with her, AND get mad at her at the same time. Yet somehow, I kept expecting something more to happen here; until I realized that the author really was just taking us through the mind of a woman who was mulling over her marriage, and trying to figure out how to make it up to her children. Although I must say, the ending was a little disappointing. And I couldn't stop wondering how the book would have read had Isaac DuPree been a second narrator. My favorite thing about the book were the underlying lessons. Like one of my favorite parts when Rachel finally realizes that she did not have to hate the "Agency Indians." She finally saw Mrs. Fills The Pipe for who she really was: a woman just like herself. "Her eyes were black like my mother's. Her skin was brown like Alise's. Her face was tired and sad like mine. Her sister-in-law was dying but she'd helped me because Mary asked her to...all that from an agency Indian. Isaac hated Indians but that didn't make it right. It didn't mean I had to. It didn't mean I had to hold on to grievances that were never mine."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    I'm working my way through the Reader's Choice Nominees for this year at the Library and The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is my favorite so far! I just finished reading this heartbreaking story and I desperately want to know, "What happens next?!!!" The novel is very well written. I could hardly stand to put it down. I wanted to get to a happy ending! I wanted everything to finally work out for Rachel! I loved going back in history and getting a feel for life in the United States in the ear I'm working my way through the Reader's Choice Nominees for this year at the Library and The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is my favorite so far! I just finished reading this heartbreaking story and I desperately want to know, "What happens next?!!!" The novel is very well written. I could hardly stand to put it down. I wanted to get to a happy ending! I wanted everything to finally work out for Rachel! I loved going back in history and getting a feel for life in the United States in the early 20th century. I sat on my comfy couch in my air conditioned home with all of the modern conveniences and I suffered with Rachel as she struggled to survive in the Dakota Badlands. Oh, how hard they had to work! I experienced with her the racial tensions and the prejudices the whites, blacks, and indians had for each other, and I wondered Why? Why can't we even now just all get along? Underneath our colors we are all the same. Rachel realizes this as Mrs. Fills the Pipe, an old indian squaw, is there for her when her own husband, Isaac, is not. This book made me appreciate my life. It also made me appreciate my faith in God. Rachel struggled with her faith. I found myself wanting her to pray more for help! I wanted to pray for her!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    This is the story of Rachel Dupree, a black woman pioneer living with her husband and their five children in the Badlands of South Dakota. Isaac, Rachel's husband, is a hard man, determined that his children will never have to bow and scrape to the whites. In Isaac's mind, owning land is the only insurance against this. Rachel, who is nine months pregnant, is less certain. In their fourteen years in the Badlands, they have lost two children. Life in South Dakota is stark and mean and Rachel mour This is the story of Rachel Dupree, a black woman pioneer living with her husband and their five children in the Badlands of South Dakota. Isaac, Rachel's husband, is a hard man, determined that his children will never have to bow and scrape to the whites. In Isaac's mind, owning land is the only insurance against this. Rachel, who is nine months pregnant, is less certain. In their fourteen years in the Badlands, they have lost two children. Life in South Dakota is stark and mean and Rachel mourns that her children have not experienced the sweetness of childhood in such a barren place. This book was compared to the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but they have little in common with this book. In the "Little House" books (except for the last two), the story is told from a child's perspective. The books are full of love and adventure, new challenges are exciting. The Personal History of Rachel Dupree is told from a mother's perspective, so it is fraught with worry and anxiety. The drought, the sick milk cow, her unborn child, the empty cellar are all reasons to worry about the future and the survival of her children. This book was quite well-written, but I wouldn't call it a pleasure to read. Throughout it, I felt troubled and nervous, which is a testament to the Weisgarberr's skills. Also, it is worth noting that i had just found out I was pregnant when I read this book. Rachel's sometimes problematic pregnancy and anxiety hit VERY close to home. But I do look forward to more from her!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Trudy

    Simultaneously heartbreaking and enjoyable story of a black family's struggle to survive the Badlands in the early 1900's. Powerful characters. Very engaging read. Simultaneously heartbreaking and enjoyable story of a black family's struggle to survive the Badlands in the early 1900's. Powerful characters. Very engaging read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    As this novel begins it is the early 1900's, and Rachel Reeves has been working as a cook for eight years at Mrs. DuPree's boarding house for black men in Chicago. Now 25, she is still unmarried, but attracted to Mrs. DuPree’s son Isaac, 31, who has been in the army for 13 years. (Isaac served in the 9th Cavalry Regiment, historically one of the original six regiments of the regular U.S. Army set aside for black enlisted men by Congress in the act of July 28, 1866 reorganizing the army for post- As this novel begins it is the early 1900's, and Rachel Reeves has been working as a cook for eight years at Mrs. DuPree's boarding house for black men in Chicago. Now 25, she is still unmarried, but attracted to Mrs. DuPree’s son Isaac, 31, who has been in the army for 13 years. (Isaac served in the 9th Cavalry Regiment, historically one of the original six regiments of the regular U.S. Army set aside for black enlisted men by Congress in the act of July 28, 1866 reorganizing the army for post-Civil War service, mainly against native peoples in the West.) Isaac intends to get land pursuant to the 1862 Homestead Act, providing that any man or unmarried woman could claim a hundred and sixty ares of public land out west. Even blacks were eligible - as Isaac explained to a friend: “The Homestead Act doesn’t care about the color of a man’s skin. A man’s a man in the West.” Mrs. DuPree looks down on Rachel - she is “too dark,” not well-educated (she had to quit school to support her family), and doesn’t come from an aristocratic family. Nevertheless, the ambitious Isaac figures that with Rachel, he could get 320 acres instead of 160, and agrees to marry her for one year in exchange. Rachel intended to prove to Isaac in that year that he wouldn’t be able to do without her. Mrs. DuPree disowns Isaac for marrying “low” and the couple sets out for the South Dakota Badlands. The book, narrated by Rachel, goes back and forth in time beginning when Rachel worked at the boarding house, and alternating with a period fourteen years after the couple left for the west. They now have five children, with another two having died as infants. Life in the Badlands is extremely difficult, but whenever they get extra money, Isaac uses it to buy yet more land; as the story begins, they have 2500 acres, but hardly enough food and water to survive. Rachel increasingly feels that Isaac cares more about accumulating land than the welfare of the rest of the family, especially the children. Brave, resourceful, and determined, she makes a hard decision for her future. Discussion: There are a couple of subplots in the story worth mentioning. One is the social divide between Northern and Southern blacks. If you read World of Our Fathers by Irving Howe you will be reminded of the similar friction between German and Russian Jewish immigrants to the United States, the former considering themselves a cut above the latter. When Mrs. DuPree has Ida B. Wells come to speak to her ladies group, Rachel is delighted to discover that the famous and accomplished Mrs. Wells had been born a slave in Mississippi and related more to Rachel than the fancy women in the parlor. [Ida Bell Wells-Barnett born in 1862, was an African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, feminist, an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement, and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.] Another thread running through the story is Isaac’s curiously virulent hostility toward Native Americans. Rachel doesn’t find out the reason for it until almost the end of the story. But hints of what happened arise periodically, and affect the family’s relationship with others out west. Evaluation: This gem of a book grabbed me from the start. It’s not long, but manages to pack a lot into it, from conditions for early settlers in the west, to race relations, social conventions, gender roles and expectations, and family love and loyalty. It would make an excellent book club selection. Awards: Orange Prize Nominee for New Writers (2009) David J. Langum Sr. Prize for American Historical Fiction (2010) Note: A movie with an all-star cast (with Viola Davis, Mahershala Ali, and Quvenzhané Wallis is in the works.

  13. 5 out of 5

    ManOfLaBook.com

    The Per­sonal His­tory of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weis­gar­ber is an award-winning fic­tional book tak­ing place in the Bad­lands of South Dakota. The book fol­lows the tough life in that area. Six­teen year old Chicago res­i­dent Rachel Reeves works as a cook and expe­ri­ences dis­crim­i­na­tion not only from whites, but from the élite African-Americans as well. How­ever, Rachel is a proud woman who idol­izes Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a fear­less cru­sader and anti-lynching acti­vate. When her boss’ so The Per­sonal His­tory of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weis­gar­ber is an award-winning fic­tional book tak­ing place in the Bad­lands of South Dakota. The book fol­lows the tough life in that area. Six­teen year old Chicago res­i­dent Rachel Reeves works as a cook and expe­ri­ences dis­crim­i­na­tion not only from whites, but from the élite African-Americans as well. How­ever, Rachel is a proud woman who idol­izes Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a fear­less cru­sader and anti-lynching acti­vate. When her boss’ son, Isaac, returns from the army Rachel agrees to marry him and move with the ambi­tious and charis­matic man to the Bad­lands of South Dakota. Isaac and Rachel, tak­ing advan­tage of the Home­stead Act of 1862 will get 320 acres of land. Eight kids and four­teen years later Rachel real­izes every­day how the Bad­lands got their name as she expe­ri­ences drought, storms, thirst, hunger, lone­li­ness and many other hardships. The Per­sonal His­tory of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weis­gar­ber is a unique work, well writ­ten and an excel­lent first effort by the author. There are many themes in this book, racism, hard­ships, pio­neer­ing, work ethic and Amer­i­can form of cap­i­tal­ism among oth­ers social themes. The story about liv­ing in a harsh envi­ron­ment was grip­ping and com­pelling. The “Per­sonal His­tory” of a black wife to a South Dakota rancher is fascinating. The racism aspect of the book, to me, was the more pro­nounced hard­ship which Rachel expe­ri­enced. Not only from the whites in Chicago, but also from the better-off African-Americans as well as some whites in the Bad­lands, a place where one would think peo­ple will stick together. The racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion towards Native-Americans was also touched in the book and cer­tainly made some sour points on sev­eral occa­sions. The only char­ac­ter in this book who isn’t racist or dis­crim­i­na­tory is the harsh land which treats every­one as equals. For a few years, what seems a life­time ago, I worked in agri­cul­ture. Think­ing back it seemed like a fine time – great guys, the smell of the land, hard work, appre­ci­a­tion and a feel­ing of accom­plish­ment mak­ing some­thing grow. How­ever, look­ing back with a bit more crit­i­cism than nos­tal­gia, I remem­ber how dif­fi­cult it was get­ting up before the birds, deal­ing with stinky manure, chem­i­cals and the back break­ing labor. This book is not a roman­ti­cized ver­sion of pio­neer­ing, it tells of the dif­fi­cul­ties out west, the hard work which can be wiped out in one day with noth­ing to show for it. No sub­si­dies. No insur­ance. Nothing! This book, strong on char­ac­ters and themes is a worth­while read and an excel­lent choice for book clubs – there is much to discuss. For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jessica McCann

    Ann Weisgarber’s debut novel has received many accolades, all well-deserved. Your heart will ache -- with love and despair, with wonder and disbelief, with hope and pride. The Personal History of Rachel Dupree tells of life in the South Dakota Badlands in the early 1900s, when the last parcels of land in the U.S. Homestead Act were divvied up -- land so barren, remote and harsh that few had the fortitude and stubbornness to tame it. Anyone could make a claim to 160 acres -- even a single woman o Ann Weisgarber’s debut novel has received many accolades, all well-deserved. Your heart will ache -- with love and despair, with wonder and disbelief, with hope and pride. The Personal History of Rachel Dupree tells of life in the South Dakota Badlands in the early 1900s, when the last parcels of land in the U.S. Homestead Act were divvied up -- land so barren, remote and harsh that few had the fortitude and stubbornness to tame it. Anyone could make a claim to 160 acres -- even a single woman or a Negro, and Rachel Reeves was both. She worked as a housekeeper in Chicago, fell in love with Buffalo Soldier Isaac Dupree and dreamed of a better life. Isaac didn’t want a wife, but he did want more land. The two made a bargain -- each would stake a claim to 160 acres in South Dakota, they would marry and Isaac would own all 320 acres. Then Rachel would have one year to prove she was strong enough to be a rancher’s wife, or she would be shipped back to Chicago. Fourteen years later, with five children and a baby on the way, in the midst of a brutal drought, Rachel must somehow muster even more strength to do right by her family in impossibly hard times. Weisgarber transports the reader to the harsh, lonely Badlands and sheds light on a little-known piece of American frontier history. Her description of events, emotions and landscape are vivid and haunting, beautiful and terrifying. I felt the grit in my skin and the ache in my belly. I wept the bittersweet tears of a mother’s heartbreak. Rachel Dupree grabbed hold of my hand in the very first paragraph, and I could not let go until the final page was turned. In fact, a part of me is still holding on…

  15. 5 out of 5

    Piyali

    10 pages into the book I realized I had read this before. But instead of putting it away I re read the story with same eagerness and intensity that I had read it the first time. A black family trying to make it in the Badlands is almost like a revolt in itself against society's perception of the black people in the early twentieth century. Rachel Reeves is a cook at a boardinghouse in Chicago when the son of the owner, Mrs Dupree, Isaac comes for a visit. Although Mrs Dupree has dreams of Isaac 10 pages into the book I realized I had read this before. But instead of putting it away I re read the story with same eagerness and intensity that I had read it the first time. A black family trying to make it in the Badlands is almost like a revolt in itself against society's perception of the black people in the early twentieth century. Rachel Reeves is a cook at a boardinghouse in Chicago when the son of the owner, Mrs Dupree, Isaac comes for a visit. Although Mrs Dupree has dreams of Isaac help her run her 3 boardinghouses, Isaac dreams of ranching. Rachel Reeves falls in love with dashing Isaac Dupree but the man has a deal for her. If Rachel is ready to join the 160 acres of land that she can get from the Homestead Act with his, he can offer marriage. Rachel leaves all that she knows and loves in Chicago to follow the man of her dreams to become a pioneer woman. Several years and several children later, we find Rachel Dupree battling a drought condition while being heavily pregnant. Isaac's desire to procure more land and cattle holds Rachel and her children in a situation which is extremely difficult. Yet the Race riots in the cities make returning home full of danger as well. Rachel Dupree, however, will make any sacrifice required of her to give her children 'a dab of sweetness' in life which they can hold on to when and if life throws up challenges.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tara Chevrestt

    The time is 1903. The setting is Chicago. Rachel is working as a cook in a boarding house, living at home with her parents to whom she hands over most of her paychecks to, and there are no marriage prospects in sight unless she wants to settle for a slaughter house worker and still be a cook in a boarding house ten years down the road. So when a fine fellow, Isaac Dupree comes around talking about 160 acres of South Dakota land, Rachel pretty much proposes to him. The deal: She gets her own 160 The time is 1903. The setting is Chicago. Rachel is working as a cook in a boarding house, living at home with her parents to whom she hands over most of her paychecks to, and there are no marriage prospects in sight unless she wants to settle for a slaughter house worker and still be a cook in a boarding house ten years down the road. So when a fine fellow, Isaac Dupree comes around talking about 160 acres of South Dakota land, Rachel pretty much proposes to him. The deal: She gets her own 160 acres and hands it over to him in exchange for one year of marriage... For full review and pictures, click the link below. http://wwwbookbabe.blogspot.com/2010/...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    I quite liked this book, and was very impressed with it for being the first novel of a non-writer (by profession. She wrote a book, so obviously she's a writer). The voice of the narrator, Rachel, was engaging, and she did a great job weaving the past events of her life into what was happening now. The author was also a master of showing, not telling, and you were able to get a detailed picture of relationships and personalities from very brief exchanges. I loved the setting, both of place and ti I quite liked this book, and was very impressed with it for being the first novel of a non-writer (by profession. She wrote a book, so obviously she's a writer). The voice of the narrator, Rachel, was engaging, and she did a great job weaving the past events of her life into what was happening now. The author was also a master of showing, not telling, and you were able to get a detailed picture of relationships and personalities from very brief exchanges. I loved the setting, both of place and time period. Rachel DuPree and her family are the only black settlers for hundreds of miles. Yet her husband came from an educated family in Chicago with money to spare. He chose the life of a rancher, and Rachel worked herself to the bone alongside him because she wanted to share his life. It was fascinating to see their love story pick up where it did: seven children and many hard years after Rachel first fell in love. It reminded me of "Love Comes Softly" in the whole 'you take what's at hand and make the best of it' mentality, except this book was about a million times better in every way. Both had a lot of descriptions of making biscuits. On the personal side, this book made me appreciate the food in my kitchen and the water in my tap a whole lot more. It made my heart ache with gratitude that I will likely never see my children listless with hunger and thirst (despite their daily claims to be "starving" right before dinner), and it made me appreciate the ease of my chores and my abundant leisure time (although it never feels that way). I read this while reading a biography of my great-great-grandparents who came from the coal mines of England in 1880-ish and homesteaded in the mountains of Coalville, Utah. Nothing came easily, except for children dying. This book was set in the same time period on a homestead in the Badlands of South Dakota (wouldn't the name tip you off that it wasn't likely to be a good experience?) and while fictional, it was certainly based on reality. It was interesting to have a comparison to the experiences of my own pioneer ancestors. The ending of the book was somewhat of a disappointment, because it left things very open-ended. Whenever I find myself displeased with an ending, I inevitably ask myself how I would have done it differently, and in this case I really don't know. It would take another novel to wrap up what was introduced in the last chapters of this book, one I wouldn't mind reading, but also don't mind imagining for myself. My guess is, though, that the low average star rating for this books is due to the disatisfaction of readers with the ending. Anyway, I encourage my goodreads friends to read it. It's a quick, engaging read, and if you don't love it, you'll still probably consider it a good use of reading time.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    In this tale of a woman who basically sells herself into her marriage for 160 acres of unforgiving land in the South Dakota Badlands the reader sees the strength of the American homesteader. Rachel Reeves was working in the kitchen of Mrs. DuPree's boarding house when Isaac DuPree comes home in his Army uniform. Rachel falls in love but Isaac has one thing on his mind; homesteading in the Badlands where he can stake his claim to 160 acres of land. To him land is everything. Rachel reminds him tha In this tale of a woman who basically sells herself into her marriage for 160 acres of unforgiving land in the South Dakota Badlands the reader sees the strength of the American homesteader. Rachel Reeves was working in the kitchen of Mrs. DuPree's boarding house when Isaac DuPree comes home in his Army uniform. Rachel falls in love but Isaac has one thing on his mind; homesteading in the Badlands where he can stake his claim to 160 acres of land. To him land is everything. Rachel reminds him that as a single woman she too can claim 160 acres. She give him her claim if he agrees to marry her. They do marry and off they head to South Dakota. In spite of Isaac offering her an out after one year of marriage they stay together forging a relationship, building a house and buying other ranches. They are never quite accepted by the others in town due to their color but they cannot be ignored because of the size of their holding. All is going well until drought strikes and suddenly everything they have built together starts to implode. Rachel realizes that Isaac is not what she thought he was. Nor is she. I read this book in one sitting. I couldn't put it down. It's powerful, it's compelling and it's hard to read. Not because of the writing; the writing is beautiful in a harsh, Badlands way but because of the topics. (They are startlingly beautiful but unbelievably harsh country. I loved visiting.) Rachel is a woman who knew what she wanted, went after it but got more than she bargained for. She got her man but he never cared for anything but the land. Everything he did was for that accursed land. What she wanted didn't count. Another woman who thought she would change a man.... The characters are well drawn and utterly fascinating. Isaac is a man who knows what he wants and will let nothing stand in his way. Rachel is a woman of strength, courage and love. Like every mother she wants more for her children than she had. When she realizes that life on the ranch is depriving them of many of the sweeter aspects of life she makes a hard decision that will effect all of their lives. I so wanted this book to continue. I felt as if I were immersed in the time period and in the world. Ms. Weisbarber's writing had the power to do that. You won't be disappointed in reading this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    Rarely have I experienced a historical novel such as this one. Ms Weisgarber has chosen to champion black women in the undeveloped and barren wilds of the Badlands, and she does it with a sensitivity that will break your heart, sparking feelings you didn't know you possessed. "The Personal History of Rachel DuPree" is a mightily rendered novel, it left me wondering how I could have held my breath such a long time. One thing was certain and universal throughout this book and that was the push-pull Rarely have I experienced a historical novel such as this one. Ms Weisgarber has chosen to champion black women in the undeveloped and barren wilds of the Badlands, and she does it with a sensitivity that will break your heart, sparking feelings you didn't know you possessed. "The Personal History of Rachel DuPree" is a mightily rendered novel, it left me wondering how I could have held my breath such a long time. One thing was certain and universal throughout this book and that was the push-pull of relationship between man and woman. So many have experienced this expectation of the "bargain" for a marriage that hinges upon love and trust often weighed heavily on the woman's side, only to feel that "hinge" rusting away over years of hardship and childbearing. It is particularly present in this novel, handled in profound and bittersweet passages that show the anxieties of a mother's love and protective life-blood vrs. a man's drive to save his land and work. I felt Rachel's heartaches, her loneliness at times, and her isolation in choosing to do what was the best for her children; and, ultimately, for herself. While she, too, believed in working and culling out their stretch of land, it was secondary to her children. Rachel is a character so perfectly described and drawn that she's sure to be remembered in the vein of all great heroines. She's the epitome of not just black (Negro) women, but the best in the feminine spirit that causes us to rise above hardship and strife to claim our rights as women of valour, and mothers who make a difference in the world. She makes us proud to be women. That Ms Weisgarber chose this time period and these characters to write her book shines in its originality. I believe it's a gift that will keep living in the hearts and minds of many. Actually, I expect it will end up in the classrooms and colleges that reach for exceptional reading material of this period and of women who exempify those who made our country what it was meant to be. "The Personal History of Rachel DuPree" makes me ashamed in a way that we haven't explored and honored black womens' contributions in opening our frontiers before this! 5 well-deserved stars

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maya B

    This was the story of Rachel and Isaac and the struggles they endured in the Badlands. I felt that this was a very depressing book to read. The relationship that Isaac and rachel had felt more like an arrangement and not a true marriage. It was so much hardship, that the entire time I was reading I was hoping for some happier moments. Also, I did not like the ending because it felt rushed and I wanted closure with this couple.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lulu

    This was a good, well-written story...but it is just sooooo depressing. Drawing my own conclusions throughout the reading about the ending, I feel it is a satisfying story. The two main characters (Rachel and Issac) have two separate destinations in mind, but they feel they can get to both places by traveling together on the same road. I think that was the root of their problems; they never really connected and got on the same page. Again, this is a sad story, but it’s worth a read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte Lewis

    I very much enjoyed the book. Loved the boldness of the main character. Can't wait to share at the BC meeting I very much enjoyed the book. Loved the boldness of the main character. Can't wait to share at the BC meeting

  23. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Three stars or four? I'm not sure. A harsh look at the Badlands at the turn of the century. Three stars or four? I'm not sure. A harsh look at the Badlands at the turn of the century.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    Rachel has married up. She used to be a hired girl working in the kitchen at Mrs. Dupree’s boarding house. Mrs. Dupree was forced into taking in boarders when she was widowed, but she has done quite nicely for herself. She is among the cream of Chicago’s Negro community, and the women she entertains are light-skinned and at least four generations removed from slavery. Imagine her tremendous dismay when her only son, Isaac, comes home from fighting the Indian wars and announces that he is moving Rachel has married up. She used to be a hired girl working in the kitchen at Mrs. Dupree’s boarding house. Mrs. Dupree was forced into taking in boarders when she was widowed, but she has done quite nicely for herself. She is among the cream of Chicago’s Negro community, and the women she entertains are light-skinned and at least four generations removed from slavery. Imagine her tremendous dismay when her only son, Isaac, comes home from fighting the Indian wars and announces that he is moving out to the Western territories to stake a claim and become a common farmer. “Rancher,” he reminds her. And if he marries a single woman who has also staked a claim, he will have twice as much land once they marry. And so he stakes a claim on Rachel’s behalf, and she gets her heart’s desire: she gets to marry that handsome young officer. She becomes Rachel Dupree. Roll the film forward about 14 years. Rachel is pregnant with her eighth child. The Badlands, “a country so backward and harsh that even Indians didn’t want it”, has had no rain for a long, long time. To get a little water, they have to tie one of their children to a plank and lower her on a rope to the bottom of the well. Liz doesn’t want to do it anymore. She has nightmares. There’s a snake down there, she says. But their tongues are thick from lack of water. There is grit between their teeth. And they will lose the horses and their only milk cow if they don’t water them. So at bedtime, Rachel tells her five surviving children to take just one sip of the water Liz brings up. Are you spellbound, or are you horrified? I confess I was both. I live in the land of water. In Seattle there is moss growing on everyone’s front steps or porch, and if we aren’t careful, it will grow on our fences and our homes! Most of us don’t bother with umbrellas. We’re used to the fine mist that generally falls during the day. Most of the good hard rain falls at night, and it lulls us to sleep better than a lullaby. And yet, we send the kids to school carrying a water bottle anyway, because hydration is so important. “Only a sip.” I’m not the only one that doesn’t care for that. Rachel has about had enough of it, too. For one thing, there are no Negro families anywhere nearby. Isaac had told her that plenty of the men with whom he’d been enlisted had filed for homestead claims, but any that may have been nearby have gone on home. They can’t take it here. And actually? The white folk can’t stand it either. Every time someone goes home, Isaac buys their land. Every time there is a spare dollar, it does not go for a coat for the child who’s outgrowing hers; not even for fabric for Rachel to sew some new clothes. Rachel herself has a patched dress and a pair of work boots. What a contrast she makes from the finery she wore on her wedding day! And she is worried about their eldest daughter, Mary, who will be the right age to start dating soon. The final straw is broken when Isaac buys out yet another departing neighbor–Rachel’s closest friend, too, as luck would have it–and there is no money at all. There is no money for winter provisions, even, and the kitchen garden died when the rain didn’t come. There is nothing, nothing, nothing. And his game plan is to work the gold mine in Lead, South Dakota, which is far enough away that he will be gone all winter, and she and the children will be left with a brand new baby and thousands of miles to ranch unassisted. And no food. But hey, he believes in her. He’ll go hunting, maybe bag a bear together with his son, and between that and Rachel’s amazing know-how and steely determination, everything will turn out fine! Not so much. A strong subplot involves the local American Indian population. Homesteaders who are hungry, thirsty, and have almost nothing but the land on which they live and try to ranch are sometimes resentful of the “reservation Indians”, who have been stripped of their dignity and culture in exchange for free food, rent, and clothing (“free” being a relative term, of course). Isaac was one of the soldiers that subjugated those same Indians; when Rachel is alone on the ranch for days on end and Mrs. Fills the Pipe and her children pass by, Rachel craves company so desperately that she invites them to rest on her porch. She makes the very dead last of her chokeberry tea and serves it to Mrs. Fills the Pipe and her daughter. “Our water?” said Liz. “You’re giving them our water?” Liz had a point there; she was the one went down the well to get it. And yet, the good turn, though it upsets Isaac when he hears of it later, is not misplaced, and does not go unrewarded. And eventually Rachel thinks back to the things her hero, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, said in the Negro press (I use the term as the writer does, for historical purposes), she does not regret the gesture, except for the fact that she served them on the front porch when she should have invited them into her precious parlor. I didn’t read this book as a galley, I got it at the local library. A galley led me to Weisberger, though. I read The Promise a year or two ago and decided that this writer was going on my to-read list. This makes two winners out of the two I have read. And on top of it all, Weisberger is a Caucasian writer (or appears to be; at any rate, she isn’t Black.) This is only the second writer I have encountered that could write a first-person fictional narrative in which she provides the voice of a Black woman, and does it creditably and with great dignity. I bow in awe. And although I was already sold on the book and its author, the mention of Lead, South Dakota, nearly made me jump out of my skin. That is the tiny town where my late father was born, and its mine (gold but also iron ore) is where my late grandfather contracted the black lung disease that would eventually kill him. For those interested, it is pronounced “leed”. Maybe it’s too embarrassing to admit your home town is named after the mineral it produces, or maybe it’s a positive connotation, like leadership. My only visit there took place when I was a pre-schooler, and I have very few memories of it, all of them related to family rather than place. Forgive the digression. All told, this is really strong historical fiction. If you want to read something a little different from most of the stuff that’s for sale; if you like stories of the homesteading movement; or if you want a story that features African-Americans in a positive light, this is your book. If you just want a great book to curl up with at night while the spring rains pass, this is your book too. In short, highly recommended.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    Rachel works in the boarding house of Mrs. Dupree as a cook. When her son, Isaac, comes to visit from the Army Rachel becomes infatuated with him and she wants to have a better life and feels she can do it with him because he has ambition. He wants to claim land in South Dakota Badlands and if Rachel will stake a claim as a single Negro woman he can get twice as much. They agree then to marry and stay together for one year. The story is told in flashbacks with Rachel remembering how things were Rachel works in the boarding house of Mrs. Dupree as a cook. When her son, Isaac, comes to visit from the Army Rachel becomes infatuated with him and she wants to have a better life and feels she can do it with him because he has ambition. He wants to claim land in South Dakota Badlands and if Rachel will stake a claim as a single Negro woman he can get twice as much. They agree then to marry and stay together for one year. The story is told in flashbacks with Rachel remembering how things were in Chicago. Life is hard in the Badlands. The story starts with Rachel pregnant with her eighth child during the summer of a drought. They had very little water, the well was running dry and they resorted to lowering their daughter, Liz, into the well to get what water she could. The wind blew constantly, there was dust everywhere. They couldn't wash dishes, clothes or themselves. Isaac believed that how much land he had was the measure of a man. He took care of his family but his main focus was the ranch and how to make it succeed but at the same time keeping them poor because he would buy up land as other homesteaders would leave. Rachel was doing what she could to keep her family safe. She was tough and in the end she does what she feels is right for her children but all the way up to the end I felt she wasn't thinking straight, she was grief stricken, she shouldn't burn her bridges but then it all became clearer. This is not a feel good book. It is about hardship and loneliness. Rachel was left with the children while Isaac ran around making deals and being gone days at a time. She kept the ranch going while being heavily pregnant, no one to talk to, no neighbors for miles and miles and her family in far away Chicago. Sometimes the story was just incredibly sad.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Isaac hated Indians but that didn't make it right. It didn't mean that I had to. It didn't mean I had to hold on to grievances that were never mine. I couldn't find those words, though, not to say them out loud. Instead I tried to say it with my eyes. Her eyes, looking into mine, went soft. I believed she understood. ~~The beautiful and dangerous South Dakota badlands wherein Rachel attempted to eke out a homestead with her husband, Isaac. Meet Rachel. She would be considered a young woman today Isaac hated Indians but that didn't make it right. It didn't mean that I had to. It didn't mean I had to hold on to grievances that were never mine. I couldn't find those words, though, not to say them out loud. Instead I tried to say it with my eyes. Her eyes, looking into mine, went soft. I believed she understood. ~~The beautiful and dangerous South Dakota badlands wherein Rachel attempted to eke out a homestead with her husband, Isaac. Meet Rachel. She would be considered a young woman today, but in 1903 she was a spinster at the age of 25. A generation out from slavery, her father escaped the fields of Louisiana, and found work in a Chicago slaughterhouse. Rachel's mother works her fingers to the bone ironing linen for a hotel. Rachel longs for something better. She finds work cooking and baking in the kitchen of a boarding house that a rich African-American, Mrs. Dupree, owns. There she meets Mrs. Dupree's son, Isaac. Home on leave from the Buffalo soldiers, he sits at the long table with the boarding house men and regales them with tales of the wild west and fighting Indians. Compared with the day to day drudgery of working in the slaughterhouse, Isaac's stories sound downright exotic. The men go from amazed to enthralled when Isaac begins describing the homesteader act. To their disbelief, Isaac insists that the act is the right of *ALL* American citizens, including African-Americans. He himself is already staking a claim. The prime land of Midwestern states such as Nebraska is already completely taken, but there is still land available for the brave in the badlands of South Dakota. Rachel sees a clear path to escaping the slaughterhouses forever in Isaac's plan. She boldly approaches him, and asks if he would like a partner to help him tame his homestead. They agree that she will stake a separate claim per her right as a single woman. But, Rachel insists, Isaac must then marry her before they leave Chicago. Deal made, and whirlwind marriage at the courthouse accomplished, they head west to view their 320 acres. But is it really as easy as that? Can they win the trust of their predominantly Caucasian neighbors? Can they survive and prosper in this unforgiving land? Can their whirlwind marriage turn into love and devotion amidst adversity? Most importantly, can Rachel separate her idea of success from her husbands--indeed, is she even supposed to? It is the early 1900's after all. Read this engrossing book, set in an unusual time and place, to find out!! My two cents: Weisgarber created a wonderful protagonist in Rachel. We meet her 14 years into her marriage, and then see the road she has traveled as she daydreams while working or watching her children. I easily identified with her dreams, understood her struggles, and felt her moral dilemmas were realistically wrought. Most of the children were given depth of personality as well. It's easy to dislike Isaac, especially as the novel wears on. But place him in context before judging him. He is a young, black man in 1903-1917. He lacked a male role model. To him, land meant equality, and he sacrificed much to achieve that goal. As readers, we make judgement calls on whether he sacrificed too much. We walk a mile in Rachel and Isaac's shoes by reading The Personal History of Rachel DuPree . It is a difficult mile indeed. Given a rating of 4.5 stars or Outstanding. Highly recommended!!! Another great quote: (takes place between Rachel and her oldest daughter, Mary--age 12) "You think Jerseybell knows how bad off she is?" "I expect so." "Think if she does die, not that I think she will, but if she does, think she'll go to heaven? She's been awfully good. Especially for a cow." I thought about that, trying to remember what the Bible said about animals and heaven, but nothing came to mind. I recalled, though, a passage, or maybe it was a poem, about all animals great and small. I wasn't sure if it was from the Bible, and I didn't want to say the wrong thing about heaven. Then I thought of Johnny and my Isaac Two and Baby Henry. I said, "I expect there's folks up there wanting butter on their bread and cream in their coffee. There's babies in heaven without their mamas, and they'd be needing their milk. It wouldn't be much of a heaven, seems to me, without cows." Further reading: A link to the homestead act. https://www.nps.gov/home/learn/histor... And a link to a description of the badlands. https://www.blackhillsbadlands.com/pa...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Arielle

    2015 Reading Challenge - A book based entirely on its cover The main character and narrator, Rachel, made this an easy read. It was overall, quite a depressing story. A life of hard work and hope of love that was not returned. Children lost to the Badlands of the Dakotas. A life of isolation and hardship. Add to this a husband who was, for the most part, uncaring, selfish and obsessed with the acquisition of more and more land, no matter the cost to his family. On a historical note, I felt the aut 2015 Reading Challenge - A book based entirely on its cover The main character and narrator, Rachel, made this an easy read. It was overall, quite a depressing story. A life of hard work and hope of love that was not returned. Children lost to the Badlands of the Dakotas. A life of isolation and hardship. Add to this a husband who was, for the most part, uncaring, selfish and obsessed with the acquisition of more and more land, no matter the cost to his family. On a historical note, I felt the author glossed over the deeper and very significant aspects of the Great Migration from the South to cities in the North. Rachel retells the story of the men who came to work at the slaughterhouses in Chicago. In it she says: "Back home, now that was a different story. Neighbors were friendly, bosses were fair, and girls were the prettiest in the world." This seems blindingly ignorant of this period of history. While many Black Americans came to the North in search of better paying work and opportunities, it was deeper than that. They were fleeing a South where, they were often relegated to share cropping and being constantly in debt to the "company store" (far from fair bosses). If they managed to acquire land (that had been promised through "forty acres and a mule", but never delivered), or start up a business of their own, they faced intimidation, robbery and lynchings by the White community. The lynchings, used as a form of intimidation and terror for the broader community were rampant. While she touched on lynchings with her chapter "Ida B. Wells-Barnett", the author failed to make the connections between the socio-political climate and the great migration. I also felt that the author was too quick to note that the Black elite did not like Blacks from the South "flooding" northern cities. While class barriers definitely existed, in all my historical readings, I have never read that fellow Black Americans lacked an understanding of what people from the South were escaping and begrudged them getting away from it. Class barriers and snobbery, yes, siding with the White populace, no. So, while the author touches lightly on the riots in East St. Louis, migration, isolation as a Black family in the Dakotas, etc., overall the historical aspects of race did not resonate.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Amazing author, amazing writing, amazing story, setting and characters. Ann Weisgarber is my new favorite author. It was a privilege to read the personal history of Rachel DuPree. She was a black woman living in the late 1800's to early 1900's. Her story takes her from hard work in a Chicago boarding house to even harder work in the South Dakota Badlands. She is married to a former black soldier who had fought the Indians in the west. He is obsessed with acquiring land even if it means more hard Amazing author, amazing writing, amazing story, setting and characters. Ann Weisgarber is my new favorite author. It was a privilege to read the personal history of Rachel DuPree. She was a black woman living in the late 1800's to early 1900's. Her story takes her from hard work in a Chicago boarding house to even harder work in the South Dakota Badlands. She is married to a former black soldier who had fought the Indians in the west. He is obsessed with acquiring land even if it means more hardship and doing without things for his family. Over and over you are reminded that he believes that owning land is the only way a black man can gain respect even in the Badlands. He is a hard worker and a stubborn man. Meanwhile Rachel works and works in the worst circumstances you can imagine-all while having one baby after another-working till the day of births. She is a strong woman but her heart is cold then warm and back again from sheer exhaustion and constant worry for her children and husband. I know now why the Badlands are called that...harsh weather seemed a constant...extreme drought, heat, strong unrelenting dusty winds, deluges of rain turning rivers and land into foot deep mud, foot after foot of snow. There are layers of racism in this book...Native Americans, blacks against different color or shade of black skin and the amount of education and money they have and even if they were from the south. Whites did not play much in this book but there is a hint of white racism too. The saving grace is that life is so unrelenting in the Badlands that that racism and differences are erased when people need each other. I loved this book and would recommend to all who like good fiction and like to be taken to exotic places with their reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ciara

    I am a huge fan of pioneers. I love history, and I really enjoy stories of women's struggles with the land. This one was just a little too distant for me. Rachel was too quiet as she struggled through her own personal recognition, and while I was happy with her decision in the end, I just couldn't figure out why she wasn't pushed to a breaking point much sooner! After sixteen years, my husband surely would've heard my opinion once or twice. A friend disagrees completely, and says "if you were a I am a huge fan of pioneers. I love history, and I really enjoy stories of women's struggles with the land. This one was just a little too distant for me. Rachel was too quiet as she struggled through her own personal recognition, and while I was happy with her decision in the end, I just couldn't figure out why she wasn't pushed to a breaking point much sooner! After sixteen years, my husband surely would've heard my opinion once or twice. A friend disagrees completely, and says "if you were a black woman in turn-of-the-century America, who was used to being oppressed and keeping quiet, you too wouldn't have said a word for this long!" She also praises the way the author was able to put words to such intense human emotion and struggle, which I agree with. This may be a 3.5, but it's not four stars, and if you read it, be prepared to be emotionally dragged down some while reading.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ginny Messina

    Stories about pioneer women enduring the hardships of the plains are a dime a dozen – and I can never get enough of them myself. This one is unique in that the protagonist is black, which creates another layer of loneliness on top of the usual loneliness that so many of these women endured. There are also Rachel’s complicated feelings toward her husband, who is an interesting and complex character in this story. (I still haven’t decided whether I like him or not.) The book takes place in South D Stories about pioneer women enduring the hardships of the plains are a dime a dozen – and I can never get enough of them myself. This one is unique in that the protagonist is black, which creates another layer of loneliness on top of the usual loneliness that so many of these women endured. There are also Rachel’s complicated feelings toward her husband, who is an interesting and complex character in this story. (I still haven’t decided whether I like him or not.) The book takes place in South Dakota’s heartbreakingly beautiful and forbidding Badlands, and Ann Weisbarger’s prose instantly transported me to that place and time. I couldn’t put this book down. It’s her debut novel and I can’t wait for more.

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