Hallo, Hallo dear hearts!
As you might have seen recently, one of the stories I was looking forward to reading was entitled “The Undertaker’s Assistant” which deals with the realities of working in the mortuary arts in the 19th Century. Except for whichever reason I had trouble connecting into the story despite finding a lot of lovely compliments to give the author as she truly brought Reconstruction America to life alongside the hidden histories of mortuary sciences.
Here is an excerpt from what I shared earlier on the blog tour:
Initially, when I first started reading the story, I felt hooked inside it – as it had such a clever rhythm and delivery; settling you immediately into Effie’s shoes and giving you a firm understanding of the surroundings she was about to embrace as the newest embalmer to work in New Orleans. Even her back-story was quite remarkable as she was taken in by a soldier and taught a trade she could use in the field as much as she could lateron in life as a profession. She was unique amongst her peers and she had a skill many would flinch to even study much less master.
Sometimes the hardest person to convince of your confidence is yourself – yet, Effie didn’t let people sway her that easily from her confident demeanor. Even if the words they spoke towards her were questioning and unkind, she refuted their sting by merely stating facts and keeping herself on the other side of their snark by not reacting to it directly. Effie is an unusual sort of woman – at the time of the Restoration (the years shortly after the Civil War) wherein most freedwomen might seek for work in industries without a taboo attached to them, Effie found she has a passionate calling to the mortuary arts. She’s an embalmer and bent on convincing her new employer that she not only has the brains for the job but she has the passion to do the job right.
I will say, Skenandore doesn’t gloss over the grittier bits of New Orleans during the Restoration – considering the conditions of the streets, the living quarters and how there was a disparaging difference in how people lived on different streets throughout the city’s different quarters and neighbourhoods – paints a strong picture towards what you could expect to find if you walked these streets yourself during this period of time. She also took us closer inside Effie’s own life – rather than expanding too far afield into New Orleans or even the timescape of when this book is set. There are background passages and the overlays of the political scene concurrent to the toils of how Effie must find her own sense of purpose as an embalmer in a world not yet prepared to treat her as an equal.
It was this focus on the mortuary arts which inspired me to direct the conversation I had with her about her lead character Effie & the research she put into the novel itself. I found her responses wicked fascinating and I truly loved delving ‘behind-the-book’ to see how it was written & what inspired her choices in bringing this particular story to life.
I might not have connected with Effie in the way I had hoped but I was intrigued by the mortuary focus of the novel and how this in turn, brought representation to Historical Fiction about a part of everyday life that is not oft featured. I am hoping my readers & the visitors on the blog tour will find this as much of an intriguing subject to discuss as we did ourselves.
Be sure to brew your favourite cuppa & enjoy the conversation!
The Undertaker's Assistant
by Amanda Skenandore
Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, and with an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart, The Undertaker’s Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience–and of the unlikely bonds that hold fast even in our darkest moments.
“The dead can’t hurt you. Only the living can.”Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies–and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer’s shortcomings.
Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters–with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline–introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place.
Places to find the book:
Also by this author: The Undertaker's Assistant
Published by Kensington Books
on 30th July, 2019
Converse via: #HistoricalFiction, #HistFic or #HistNov
as well as #TheUndertakersAssistant and #HFVBTBlogTours
Available Formats: Trade paperback and Ebook