Named Georgia Author of the Year for her first novel, Almost to Eden, June Hall McCash once again delivers a story of hope and renewal with Plum Orchard. The saga is set on Cumberland Island during plantation-era Georgia and centers around a remarkable woman known as Elisabeth Bernardey. Zabette, as she is called, was born the illegitimate daughter of a planter and a slave and was raised as the planter’s daughter, so she finds herself neither completely free nor totally in bondage. Plum Orchard chronicles her journey through the Antebellum South. This epic tale spans a large portion of the nineteenth century and is a narrative that explores both the darkness that was slavery and the light that lives within the human heart.
June Hall McCash is the author of twelve books, including three novels, eight nonfiction works, and a book of poetry. She was born in Newberry, South Carolina, and completed a full academic career before becoming a full-time writer. Her novel, Almost to Eden, won the Georgia Author of the Year award for first novel in 2011. It was followed by a second novel, Plum Orchard, which was the recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year Award for best novel in 2013. Her most recent publications are her first volume of poetry, The Thread Box, and a new work of historical fiction, The Boys of Shiloh, written primarily for young readers. She is currently at work on a new historical novel entitled Marguerite’s Landing.
Plum Orchard, June Hall McCash’s second novel, is Page Turners’ selection this month. Because we are Georgia-based, we especially enjoy books that tell the history of our state. Set in the antebellum era on Cumberland Island, this novel is built on historic figures and events. The author is quick to say that it is a work of fiction, but her narrative rings true. It is a fascinating and page-turning account of Zabette Bernardey, a woman neither slave nor free. I am looking forward to our discussion tonight — there are so many things to discuss. Have you read Plum Orchard? What did you think?
Zabette’s story begins and ends on Cumberland Island. Born the daughter of a white plantation owner and his mulatto slave, Zabette is raised as a white girl by her French grandmother. Given advantages unknown to other children of slave/master unions, she lives in a world somewhere between the races. Treated with respect but distance by the slaves and with disdain and indifference by the white planters, Zabette’s life is dictated by the culture and laws of Georgia and by the need to hide her true identity. It is a story full of the bitter and the sweet.
McCash takes historical figures and adds very realistic motives and emotions. Most of the characters did indeed exist. Her research is meticulous, creating a book that transports the reader back in time. She captures the essence of island life for both blacks and whites during the early 18th century. The novel never glorifies the plantation system, yet it doesn’t demonize it either. Characters are dealt with an even hand, yet injustices and contradictions are exposed. One of the more sympathetic white characters believes she protects and provides for her people. And, in the context of the time, she does. But she never considers that owning a human could possibly be wrong. Zabette spent the years leading up to the Civil War in Groton, Connecticut where she lived in relative, if not actual freedom. Yet, her place was still dictated by the color of her skin. It is interesting that her children, who had limited contact with their father and were raised exclusively by their mother, chose to turn their backs on their creole roots, choosing to blend into white society.
I loved Plum Orchard, a story of the South told from a unique perspective. Please note that this book was published for the general market and does contain some adult situations and profanity.
Great for book clubs.
To purchase this book, click HERE.
(I purchased this book — all opinions expressed are mine alone.)