Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim is a moving novel about the dear relationship between a wet nurse and the child she loves. Laila Ibrahim does a beautiful job of creating a true warmth and compassion for the main character Mattie, and the child she learns to love, Lisabeth (or Miss Elizabeth for a more formal approach).
The novel examines the difficult relationship between slaves and their owners during a time when Ohio represented the free state of escape.
Mattie, a slave that previously worked the fields, is brought unexpectedly into the house as a wet nurse/nanny when the woman originally hired to do this takes ill and dies. Mattie, of course, is nursing her own infant son and struggles to pull herself away from her flesh and blood to raise a white child that is not her own. But, slowly, the relationship develops and Mattie comes to love Lisabeth as her child. Mattie, painted beautifully as a strong and smart woman that is not formally educated, does understand the nuances of loving a baby. It is not this child's fault she is where she is and this drives Mattie's passion to make sure this little girl is raised right; with love and respect for all people, not only those without a dark color.
Lisabeth, the child, is raised in two worlds - Mattie's down in the quarters where she plays on Sundays, and her parents, full of lessons and manners and debutant balls. She is promised to marry, but as she watches the behavior of her brother and the other boys, she begins to find an uncomfortable dynamic between the owners and their slaves, save one boy who isn't like the rest.
Meanwhile, Mattie is battling her own wars trying desperately to find her husband and son, that have run away to attempt to be free. Mattie, using the last bit of strength she has, sets off with her small daughter in tow, to find the family she's afraid is lost for good. Lisabeth is devastated to lose the one woman she loved, and trusted.
Her influence over Miss Elizabeth is never forgotten, even after she leaves their home, and this compassion surfaces in the girl she raised. Forsaking her family and her status in the community, Lisabeth makes a decision that will bring her relationship with Mattie full circle.
Yellow Crocus is a quick read. I could not put the book down and when I absolutely had to, I found myself thinking about it. Not only the story, but truly feeling the depth and emotion of the characters in the novel. The deep south setting is more surreal than painted, and while fried chicken and finger sandwiches dollop the landscape, the beauty of the novel resides within the setting of the characters hearts.
If you are a fan of The Help, this is a book you don't want to miss. While the overarching theme of slavery and the plight of white against black is there, the true development happens in the love of mothers and daughters - born or raised.
To learn more about Laila Ibrahim, visit her author page on Amazon.