“Two Rivers” is a slice-of-life antebellum story like no other. It offers an intimate look at the life of the enslaved on a rice plantation outside of their forced labor duties. But even describing it as such doesn’t quite capture the weight of this book. While the narrative follows many characters, the 84-year-old Uncle Posey is front and center for much of the story, experiencing loss, love, and the struggles of life. The author doesn’t need to show the horrors these men and women faced while in the fields. Instead, Rogers shows us the more domestic side of the enslaved lives when they are swapping stories and meals, with Posey—originally—merely wanting to keep grave robbers from stealing his sister’s body, and finding love and peace again after being a widower for so long. With his sons gone—sold after a failed rebellion—Posey knows too well that there is no such thing as a “good” master. Even if he is treated with kindness, he knows that such kindness is meaningless. With characters like Posey in the situation they’re in, the reader is shown the brutal and uncomfortable relationship between the enslaved and the enslavers on a “friendly” plantation. For a historical fiction, this book gave me hints of “Stamped from the Beginning” with its window into the origins of racism, as well as “Kindred” with the story’s more intimate look at the lives of the enslaved when they aren’t being forced to labor for another’s gain.
The author did copious amounts of research when it came to telling this story. While the Tiffany Plantation may not exist, many of the characters mentioned in the book are real, and Rogers goes above and beyond to make sure even the smallest details in his story were well researched ahead of time. While “Two Rivers” does take a little bit to get going, I enjoyed watching Posey and James go head-to-head, and how Posey and Penny outsmart a man who liked to believe he was the smartest in the room. James was the perfect foil to show how most plantation owners treated those they enslaved, which impeccably highlighted the fact that while the Tiffany’s were better in comparison, they were in many ways no better than James, either. That’s what I mean when I say Rogers does a brilliant job in highlighting that brutal and uncomfortable relationship between the enslaved and enslaver without needing to show his enslaved characters toiling away in the rice fields. Even at the end of the day when their work is done, Rogers shows how brutal Posey and Ella’s lives are because they do find laughter and love even with living in—as Rogers aptly has his characters call it— their forced labor camps. I personally really enjoyed that Rogers showed us this side of the enslaved lives, as it’s not often portrayed when we look back at history.
I have very few complaints about the book, and my qualms really come down to just my personal taste. The book frequently relies on the internal dialogue of every one of its characters and after a bit I found it distracting. Sometimes the dialogue can be a little hard to follow, which is the only reason this gets 4.5 stars from me. The main plot takes a little bit to fully get going, but it is important for Rogers to establish where each of his main characters are at the start of the story. While I can’t say I’ve read many historical antebellum novels, I do believe that the lens in which we see this side of America through Rogers story telling is both fascinating, and important for more people to know. While the story can be an uncomfortable one because of the brutally honest depiction of early America, that’s also why I think you (yes, you!) should read it. And thanks to the author for sending me an eARC for an honest review!
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