Book Review: ‘Mother of Rain’

Posted by | November 4, 2013

bonniehpetersPlease welcome guest reviewer Bonnie Heiskell Peters. Peters is a native of Union County, TN and was appointed its County Historian in 1994. She wrote the Union County entry for the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, and has authored or co-authored 9 books about the region, most recently ‘Tales from the Hills and Hollows of East Tennessee,’ (2013).


Tragedy intertwined with hope and heart-warming accounts of the lives of our Appalachian Mountain people is the short summation of Mother of Rain.

Karen Spears-Zacharias’ ability to create high drama through her word pictures quickly gained my respect for her writing.  This is not a book that will put you to sleep, but one that so intrigues the reader he can hardly wait to turn the page.

motherofrain-cover Do we know what took Ms. Spears-Zacharias from Hawkins County, Tennessee, to The New York Times?  I’ve kept up with the Times for a long time–you see, Marian Sulzberger Dryfoos married my distant cousin, the late Andrew Heiskell.  I can imagine the shock of New York City after growing up in Hawkins County, but I can tell you those early Heiskells, as well as Andrew, could write and knew good writers.

Come again?  I could not believe I know all those people Ms. Zacharias collaborated with in writing this book.  I know Jack Goins and have his book.  I met Brent Kennedy, have heard him speak about Melungeons more than once and have his book as well.  I know Michael Montgomery through the East Tennessee Historical Society.

I’m glad for his recording our colloquialisms; and I’m very appreciative that Ms. Zacharias included a glossary of these terms in her book (though personally I didn’t need to refer to it).  For the most part, I’ve lived the era of her story.  Some of the terms I hadn’t heard for a while and some of them are slightly different.  I knew right away what “come again?” means.  In elementary school if someone didn’t hear, didn’t understand or couldn’t quite believe what they had heard, “come again?” was the reply.  It was a way of poking fun at their elders. Even now, I think it is better than “Huh?”

I couldn’t help but wonder if Burdy Luttrell had an extra thumb.  It is common for Melungeons to have an extra thumb or little finger.  Brent Kennedy told us he’d had his extra thumb removed.  Not that the thumb bothered him–it didn’t, but he is a university professor and he got tired of his students asking about it.

Allowing the compelling cast to tell their story is a unique and exciting way to define the characters and to help the reader understand their role in Maizee’s life.  In many ways the book is more like a play than a book.  I was fascinated by the author’s poignant portrayal of what we now know as mental illness, which at the time was misunderstood and secretive.

Karen Spears Zacharias

I congratulate Ms. Zacharias on her excellent writing skills and her ability to let her people be who they are by telling the story in East Tennessee dialect.  Her other works are:

Benched: The Memoirs of Judge Rufe McCombs

After the Flag has Been Folded

Where’s Your Jesus Now

Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide

A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder

Thank you Mercer University Press for allowing me the opportunity to know Maizee Hurd, her family and friends in Hawkins County, Tennessee.

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