by Leila Meacham
Spanning eight decades (1910′s-1980′s) and chronicling three affluent families in a fictional East Texas town, this is an immense and engrossing story that holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. The Tolivers farm cotton; The Warwicks process lumber; and the DuMonts bring the town of Howbutker fine retail goods. The families have a long history dating back to The Wars of the Roses in England, and as such they have a code of roses. Red roses symbolize the asking of forgiveness, white is the accepting of forgiveness, and pink is a refusal of forgiveness. The families have a tradition of never giving each other financial support, as that would make one in the other’s debt and the proud families would rather lose their inheritance than their pride–except perhaps a Toliver.
Mary Toliver, who is the 3rd generation of her family to own Somerset Farm, is a lovely girl of 16 when her father dies, leaving the care of the land to her. The same generation of Warwicks and DuMonts produce young men who both adore her, and through many eventful years they form relationships bordering on the unbelievable. Yet, the character’s thoughts and decisions make perfect sense to fit with their personalities.
Not to discount the quality of the writing, but it reads like a very good soap opera, with gut-wrenching twists and unforeseeable difficulties. There are characters to love, ones to hate and a few in between. Atonement is the main theme of this book, and other than an ending that is commendable, though not the magnificent finale expected, I was spellbound through every chapter.
This book has been likened to Gone With the Wind and The Thorn Birds, neither of which I’ve read. I do enjoy family sagas (Karleen Koen’s Through a Glass Darkly, Now Face to Face and Dark Angels is my absolute favorite) and this is a welcome addition to the genre! The narration on this audio is wonderful–I’ve given up on two audiobooks recently merely because the voice(s) didn’t inspire me to devote 20+ hours to the reading of them, but I have to say this is one of the best I’ve heard!