The Personal History of Rachel DuPree
By Ann Weisgarber
Completed July 18, 2011
Rachel Reeves was a strong-willed, hard-working woman from Chicago who wanted a better life for herself, including marrying a man with “ambition.” When her boss’s son, Isaac DuPree, came home on leave from the Army, Rachel knew she met the man she wanted to marry. Isaac was determined to improve his lot in life by planning to move to South Dakota to become a rancher. Rachel, seeing her ticket out, approached Isaac about marrying her to help him claim more land – an offer he couldn’t refuse. It was then that she became Rachel DuPree – and her personal history as a black wife of a South Dakota rancher came alive on the page.
Rachel’s story about living in the harsh conditions of South Dakota was mesmorizing. At the time of the story, her ranch was experiencing a severe drought, and she worried about food and water for her family (which included four children and one on the way). As conditions worsened, Rachel began to yearn for life back in Chicago. For Isaac, though, returning home meant failure – he wouldn’t even consider it. Rachel began to ponder her choices, deeply torn between her children and her marriage.
A deep undertone to The Personal History of Rachel DuPree was racism. As a black family, the DuPrees experienced racism in South Dakota, but what was more pronounced was the racism toward Native Americans. Additionally, there was racism among the African Americans, where Northern blacks discriminated against blacks from the South. This book was an eye-opening look at the various forms of racism that plagued the U.S. in the early 20th century.
With its strong characters and themes, A Personal History of Rachel DuPree is a worthwhile read for anyone who likes stories that examine social issues. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2010 and shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers. It’s definitely worthy of its accolades, and I look forward to more fiction by Ann Weisgarber. ( )