A beautiful and wrenching novel of 1920s Oklahoma, epic and intimate, from the author of The Mercy Seat Rilla Askew's first novel, The Mercy Seat, which was lauded as "powerful" and "arresting"by The New York Times Book Review and "an extraordinary story" by the Boston Globe proved that she was not afraid to tackle big, primal American themes. Her newest, Fire in Beulah, set in the same heartland territory as The Mercy Seat, is a chronicle of race, greed, and moral choice in the tense days of the Oklahoma oil rush. At its center is the complex relationship between Althea Whiteside--an oil wildcatter's high-strung wife who escaped from a hardscrabble childhood--and her enigmatic black maid, Graceful. Both are caught in the relentless currents of family and violence. Their contrapuntal stories--and those of others close to them--unfold against a volatile backdrop of fear, hate, and lynchings that climax in the Tulsa race riot of 1921, during which whites burn the city's prosperous black section to the ground.
- American Book Award
In an arresting examination of race and heritage, Askew (The Mercy Seat) mixes historical fact with compelling fiction. From the ominous opening scene to the race-segregated society of 1920s Tulsa, Okla., the reader is carried along on a journey of fragmented memories and introduced to characters with shadowy motives and even darker secrets. Althea Whiteside is 13 when her mother, kicked by a calf during pregnancy, gives birth to Japheth, the only boy in a family of seven girls. His portentous entrance into the world is just the beginning of his influence on Althea's life and the destruction he will leave in his wake. Years later, Althea has left her impoverished family and married dashing oil baron Franklin Dedmeyer. She's content to be his pampered, social wife, taken care of by servantsDincluding Graceful Whiteside, a black woman whom Althea views with alternate fascination and repulsion, as she slowly realizes that the two share more than a surname. A mysterious letter, a double lynching and Japheth's sudden intrusion into Althea's life set in motion events that draw these characters closer to one another and to the great fire and race riot of Tulsa in 1921, a murderous rampage that ran most of the blacks out of town and left hundreds dead. Written from multiple perspectives the narrative is at times difficult to follow, but Askew's bold and disturbing chronicle of greed, racial hatred and intrigue rewards patient attention. Her proseDrich, leisurely, gracefulDengages all the senses and encloses the reader in a bell jar of heat, hate and budding violence. By the novel's end, all the voices coalesce into a vivid account of the riot, during which the various characters' hubris and heroism are exposed. Agent, Jane Gelfman. Author tour. (Jan. 15) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 30, 2001
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