By Ekta R. Garg
January 23, 2019
Genre: Historical fiction
Release date: October 3, 2017
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
When a father gives his teenage daughter responsibility for his plantations, she must fight against society’s conventions and established gender ideas to prove that she’s up to the task. As she manages the land, she discovers an entrepreneurial spirit she didn’t know she possessed. Author Natasha Boyd delves into pre-Revolutionary life in the grounded novel The Indigo Girl.
It’s 1739, and Eliza Lucas has recently moved to a plantation just outside of Charles Town, South Carolina, with her parents, her younger sister, and several slaves. The move from Antigua provides a shock to the entire family; South Carolina is nothing like the island they called home and an even farther cry from their home country of England. While Mrs. Lucas finds herself discomfited at every turn, however, Eliza begins to get comfortable soon after moving.
Her father doesn’t stay for long, however. He plans to return to Antigua to make a bid for governor, but he needs someone to manage the plantation while he’s gone. Because Eliza already manages the household and handles some of the correspondence related to the plantation, she’s a natural choice to become its new mistress.
Eliza doesn’t allow her age—all of 16 years old—nor her gender to hold her back. She throws herself wholeheartedly into running the plantation. Soon enough she learns of her family’s financial difficulties. Eliza becomes more determined than ever to induce the plantation to make money so that when her younger brother, George, arrives from England to take over as the heir to the family business she can give him a profitable one.
Challenges abound, however. Rumors swirl that the French and the British may go to war against one another. Some of Eliza’s own employees scorn her decisions based on the fact that she’s a woman. The crops, too, don’t bring in the kind of money she expected.
Eliza knows she’ll have to do something drastic and decides to invest in the risky business of raising indigo plants to make cakes of indigo dye. If she can just get the formula and the process right, she’ll be able to prove to everyone that she can run the plantations as well as any man. Extracting the formula, a closely guarded secret, is much more difficult than she ever expected. She knows she has no choice, however, if she wants to save the plantations once and for all.
Author Natasha Boyd brings to life a little-known historical figure. Using Eliza Lucas’ own letters and journal entries, as well as other reliable sources, Boyd has constructed a novel that pays homage in the best of ways to its main character. She lets Eliza tell her own story in first person, bringing the reader that much closer to the conditions of life on a plantation before the Revolutionary War.
If the novel can be faulted anywhere, it’s in the fictional construction of a potential love interest. Boyd shares in her author’s note at the end of the book that she went with her instinct in creating this character based on Eliza’s letters. The scenes may be compelling on their own, but the contrast they provide to the larger story is too stark. The rest of Boyd’s narrative flows together organically, but this point doesn’t mesh with the rest of her book.
Overall, however, Boyd has brought a little-known trade of South Carolina to life. Considering the heavy emphasis placed by various books on other periods in history, Boyd’s tome offers a fresh reminder that the past does go back beyond 1939. Lovers of historical fiction will enjoy this book, but so will those who consider themselves close to the south and South Carolina in particular.
I recommend readers Bookmark The Indigo Girl.