Please welcome guest blogger Lynn Salsi, author of “The Jack Tales” and “Young Ray Hicks Learns the Jack Tales.” She has received the American Library Association’s Notable Book Award, six Willie Parker Peace History Book Awards for her non-fiction books about North Carolina, and was named the North Carolina Historian of the Year in 2001.
In the newly published memoir “Power in the Blood” (Ohio University Press), author Linda Tate reflects on her life’s experiences, expertly weaving in historical facts and settings that she acknowledges came to her through years of research. This is not a handed-down oral tale passing between generations. Rather, it proceeds from snippets of information, flashbacks, dreams, and mysteries surrounding lost Cherokee-Appalachian family members.
The trauma following her parents’ divorce amplified the author’s longing for a continuous relationship with her father, even though he ceased communication when she was twelve. Bereft of relationships on her father’s side of the family, Tate dwelled on what might have been as she grew older.
Tate threads the story of her father by hanging her text on females in the family, especially her great-great grandmother, great grandmother, and grandmother. Through them she skillfully weaves personal memories and family recollections (including those gleaned from newly met relatives). The author melds her personal memories, interviews, and formal research into an engaging story. She captures place, colloquial language, and facts while placing herself, her parents, and her grandparents into believable scenes.
Even though Tate states that she combined her imagination with research to flesh out her story, she bravely includes the personal “flaws” and shortcomings of her subjects, revealing struggles with power, abandonment, abuse, sex, discrimination, and divorce. In fact, there is little joy in the lives of her female ancestors, who are trapped in cycles of early marriage, too many children, hard work, and no conveniences.
These facts are not lost on the author as she brings forth females who “had to give up being a girl.” Their histories provide contrasts to the accomplishments and success of the author as she overcame family disappointments, earned a PhD, and became an established writing professor.
“Power in the Blood’s” storytelling strategy does not pursue the unfolding of a seamless timeline. The five chapters begin in modern times (1988 to 1993), then flash back to 1902 before returning to 1964, more dramatically emphasizing the differences of the generations of women.
Pay close attention to how Tate uses voice. She frames her personal story in current day vernacular. Likewise, she puts Louisiana and Fannie within their own setting and within their own language skills. This heightens contrast as well as tension. The author examines the difficulties of each generation as they confront their lives and times within social expectations, religious beliefs, male domination, and ethnic limitations.
Linda Tate has brought forth gripping pictures of how her female ancestors from three generations sought something more than a hard scrapple life. The women in “Power in the Blood” bear successive witness in this tale of seeking and finding.