Conjure Women

Conjure Women

A Novel

Book - 2020
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A mother and daughter with a shared talent for healing--and for the conjuring of curses--are at the heart of this dazzling first novel


"Lush, irresistible . . . It took me into the hearts of women I could otherwise never know. I was transported."--Amy Bloom, New York Times bestselling author of White Houses and Away

Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother's footsteps as a midwife; and their master's daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.

Magnificently written, brilliantly researched, richly imagined, Conjure Women moves back and forth in time to tell the haunting story of Rue, Varina, and May Belle, their passions and friendships, and the lengths they will go to save themselves and those they love.

Praise for Conjure Women

"[A] haunting, promising debut . . . Through complex characters and bewitching prose, Atakora offers a stirring portrait of the power conferred between the enslaved women. This powerful tale of moral ambiguity amid inarguable injustice stands with Esi Edugyan's Washington Black." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"An engrossing debut . . . Atakora structures a plot with plenty of satisfying twists. Life in the immediate aftermath of slavery is powerfully rendered in this impressive first novel." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Publisher: New York : Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, [2020]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780525511489
Branch Call Number: ATAKORA
Characteristics: 400 pages ; 25 cm


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A mystical and insightful coming-of-age tale of one community in the heartbreaking eras of antebellum and reconstruction (before and after the U.S. Civil War). Earth-bound natural elements are revealed in vivid scenes as May Belle sends her daughter Rue to search for medicinal plants and mysterio... Read More »

LPL_ShirleyB Apr 27, 2020

Strongly recommended; I have become a dedicated fan of this author!

LPL_ShirleyB Apr 27, 2020

Strongly recommended; I have become a dedicated fan of this author!

eBook & eAudiobk formats available Apr 7, 2020. Lyrical and character-wise with Rue at the center of this story; she’s coming-of-age and learning to be a midwife from her mom, May Belle. They are the Conjure Women on the southern plantation where they are enslaved. Mystical natural elements a... Read More »

From the critics

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Dec 03, 2020

This is such a unique interesting story and beautifully written. It's set during and after Civil War, centered around Rue a mid-wife/conjurer living on a plantation in the south. A great debut novel, looking forward to watching her in the future.

Oct 19, 2020

Well written.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Oct 16, 2020

For fans of Coates Water Dancer. A look at slavery and it's immediate aftermath from the point of view of women who were midwives to those living in slavery. Really beautifully done.

Aug 13, 2020

A story of witchcraft and voodoo set in Louisiana pre- and post-Civil War times. The pace was quite slow for me and I had to keep forcing myself to finish it which I am glad I did.

STPL_JessH Jul 16, 2020

Well, I have something controversial and shocking to say. I think Conjure Women might be better than The Vanishing Half (pause for your great shock and possible disdain!) I know, I KNOW. I gave Vanishing Half six stars out of five, so where does that leave Conjure Women?! In a different category all together, that's where.

I LOVE this book. I cannot believe it is a debut. I just can't. I refuse to. I have never read a debut like this one. Atakora's prose is so exquisite, and composed with such care. I savoured this book and read it slowly. I was caught between wanting to know what happens, and not wanting the book to end.

I really respect the way these characters are crafted with such rich detail. None of them are created simply and each has depth and nuance. They harm themselves, and they harm each other, and continue to navigate what it means to be cloistered in a closed off community. Lies are rampant and secrets are uncovered and then recovered, never fully buried.

There are a few moments strewn throughout the novel that make sense of what comes before and after. They are written with such powerful intent and yet delivered lightly, as though the reader should have seen such a revelation coming. Did I mention that Atakora writes poetically. Her descriptions are so luscious that it is impossible to imagine this story without feeling it intimately connected to the landscape. I feel like recommending this book is not enough. Conjure Women is an immense achievement. It is a story that demands to be shared, loved, discussed, remembered, and cherished.

Jun 21, 2020

Edmonds library display during June 2020

May 10, 2020

Powerful words make powerful images of this plantation Civil War and post-Civil War story. The story packs a wallop. Moving back and forth in time, the Civil War section is told by the slave woman responsible for healing, and that included conjure magic. At times, it is not an easy book to read. I wanted to slap the master’s young daughter so often and tell her to grow up. Reconstruction times are told by May Belle’s daughter. Also, a healing woman. There is so much emotion in this book, so much strength in both the slaves and the newly freed people. Endurance beyond what most of us could deal with. Freedom is not a pretty picture, it’s painful. And as secrets are revealed as the book ends, it becomes even more painful and sad. Compelling to the end, the reader will think about the people in this book for a long time.

LPL_ShirleyB Apr 27, 2020

Strongly recommended; I have become a dedicated fan of this author!

LPL_ShirleyB Apr 27, 2020

Strongly recommended; I have become a dedicated fan of this author!

OPL_DavidD Dec 27, 2019

This book gives you a lot to think about. After finishing it, it sat with me for awhile. The characters feel authentic and their relationships are messy and complicated. The story jumps between before and after the war, giving it a sense of scope.


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