Golden Poppies by Laila Ibrahim


.  This is the sequel to Yellow Crocus and Mustard Seed, the story of the intertwined lives of the family of a former slave and the family of her former owner’s daughter.  The author’s style of writing and general use of English are far better in this book that in those, but the Gilded Age just isn’t as interesting (to me) as the immediate antebellum period, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and I could also have done without the very long descriptions of railway carriages and characters’ new bathrooms.

Having said which, this third book, set partly in California and partly in Illinois, does cover some important subjects, notably the Pullman workers’ strike of 1894, the campaign for women’s suffrage in the US and Susan B Anthony’s decision to sideline African-American women, the issue of light-skinned mixed race men “passing” as white – quite understandably so, as it enabled them to earn far higher wages for far shorter hours – and the campaign for the abolition of the miscegenation laws.

Quite a lot of it centres on Unitarian churches.  I’m not sure how many Greek-American women would have attended Unitarian churches, as happens here, but I suppose some may have done.  The general theme is that California is thought to be more liberal in terms of equal rights for black and white people, and to some extent for women and men, but that, in fact, that isn’t always the case.  There’s also a detailed sub-plot involving Lisbeth (the daughter of the former slaveowner)’s daughter and her abusive husband.

It’s not the greatest book ever written, but it does cover some interesting subjects – civil rights for African Americans, rights for women, rights for workers in general –  and, as it’s available quite cheaply for Kindle readers, is worth a read.

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