by Laila Ibrahim
A wet nurse by the name of Mattie, a slave, is torn from her young son and brought to the white peoples’ house to nurse their newborn girl. This gorgeous story follows the relationship between Mattie and the baby girl, Lisbeth, as they both fight for their own version of freedom.
Mattie is a wonderful character. The latest in a long line of strong women, she accepts her place as a slave for as long as she must even as she keeps the horizon in her sights. Though she is ripped from her family to spend her milk on a white child, she does not let it beat her. She stands at the window every morning to see her family leave their homes in the slave quarters, and she gives all the love she can to Lisbeth, this loving young girl that has been forced upon her.
As for Lisbeth, she is portrayed honestly and that does not always mean kindly. She is, after all, a product of her family; she sees nothing wrong at first with the way slaves are treated, though she begins to realize early on that the cruelty is unnecessary. There is a lovely moment in the book where Lisbeth asks about ‘slaves and people’, to which Mattie explains that slaves are people. This understanding grows and separates her from her peers, and Lisbeth’s life moves in unexpected ways in part due to her love for Mattie.
I read this book in two sittings. It is a quick read, and my only complaint is that it could be so much longer; there are chunks of Mattie and Lisbeth’s lives that I would love to know more about even with the satisfying conclusion. Even the side characters have depth to them which could easily have been explored. It felt as though the book should be twice the length it is.
This book is as heart-breaking as it is touching. Mattie and Lisbeth are strong, interesting women and this book was the best impulse buy in months (and that includes a lovely skein of Manos del Uruguay).