Review: Conjure Women

Thank goodness for books during self-isolation.


Greetings from my bedroom cum office, thanks to this little pandemic. It's my third week in self-isolation now, and the only thing really keeping me sane is gardening and reading. Thankfully, I have plenty of both to keep me occupied.


It's a strange time for everyone. And that's the only thing that gives me any comfort - this is affecting everyone. There are no rules about how to feel or what to do, because none of us have been through this before; I've found my friends and family - even strangers on Instagram and Twitter - to be abundantly supportive, regularly checking in and making sure I'm okay.


I'll write more about my quarantine later on, but right now I wanted to share my thoughts on Conjure Women by Afia Atakora.


I was delighted when 4th Estate Books asked me if I wanted to be a part of this blog tour, because Conjure Women is SUCH a brilliant book. It's not something you're able to fall into easily, and nor should you; this is a challenging subject matter, with a lot to keep you up at night. 


Blurb: Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother's footsteps as a midwife; and their master's daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.


Atakora writes with such assurance, her story underpinned with extensive research. As a reader, you're with Rue every step of the way, never doubting her for a moment.  It's a harrowing look into slaverytime, the disruption of black families - people pulled apart because someone deems it necessary - and women doing their best to survive in an overbearing patriarchy.  The split narrative of before and after slaverytime is also a satisfying way to show us Rue's troubled formation into adulthood, and peppers the reader with clues of what's to come. 


You might find yourself blitzing through it in an evening or so, but Conjure Women was more of a slow burner for me. I'm glad I wasn't able to plough through it, though, because it gave me more time to digest what was happening, and to let the characters sit with me a little longer! By the final page, I was totally immersed in this colourful world Atakora painted.