Yellow Crocus - Laila Ibrahim

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I had just finished listening to Isabelle Allende's "Island Beneath the Sea" and wasn't sure if I really wanted to dive into another book about slavery. Additionally I thought about skipping this month's selection because I am studying for a certification. One of my book club friends handed me her finished copy and said it was an easy read, so I gave it a try. I did find the reading very light and enjoyable. I moved quickly through the pages and even getting a late start was not worried about finishing in time.

On a scale of 1 - 5:

Sex: - 4

Religion: - 2

Gruesome: - 1

Suspense: - 2

Morality: - 5

Sex - There is not a lot of sex but it becomes a turning point in the story and because it is forced upon the woman I rated it high. Towards the end there is one tender and moderately detailed scene between a newly married couple.

Religion - There may be references to church on Sunday but it does not play a large part in the story

Gruesome - Just life and death - nothing overly gruesome. A couple of birthing scenes but nothing too detailed.

Suspense - There is a bit of suspense when a character has a big decision to make and the reader is wondering how it will all play out. It was of an interesting level but not an overwhelming level

Morality - The main point of the story is how people treat each other, especially in regards to slavery. Some characters believe that by keeping slaves they are morally right because they are saving and protecting the negroes from a natural inability to care for themselves. Other characters are siding with the abolitionists.

The story floats back and forth between Mattie and Elizabeth. Mattie is a young slave woman with a child of her own. She must leave that three month old baby boy behind in the slave quarters to be cared for by relatives when she moves into the main house to care for the newborn daughter of the plantation owner and his wife. Mattie nurses baby Elizabeth and cares for her around the clock. Yet Mattie never replaces her love for her own Samuel. Instead, she is open with Elizabeth about her love for her own family and Elizabeth comes to care for them as well. The story spans across decades as Elizabeth grows and becomes a young lady of marrying age. Ibrahim does a splendid job of hitting the highlights and not getting lost in the tedium of day to day life yet forming a cohesive, flowing story.

Discussion Questions

"Mattie had seen glass, knew the word for it, but had never touched it." (p. 15) Mattie was also surprised by her first encounter with a mirror. Given Mattie's lack of knowledge about common things - was she the best choice to care for Elizabeth? Who would you have chosen to care for your child?

Discuss Mattie's attempt to suffocate Elizabeth on p. 18. Were you surprised? Could you sympathize? What would have happened to Mattie if she had done it? How would the punishment in 1837 been different than a punishment in current times?

Mattie's dialect remained consistent throughout the story. She expected Elizabeth to succeed in education, and she encouraged Samuel to learn as much as he could, yet other than learning a few letters, Mattie did not seek to improve her own education level. Why not?

When Mattie first moved into the house Mrs. Gray instructed her to learn to tell time. (p. 22) Imagine how you might feel in such a situation. How would you handle it? What would be your biggest obstacles to overcome and how would you conquer them?

Which loss would be harder - moving away from your baby and leaving him with relatives, or having your young son go off to work earlier than you expected?

The story of Mattie and Elizabeth is told together for the beginning of the book but at the end of the book they are told in parallel. Which character did you enjoy reading about more?

When Mattie departed the planation she told Elizabeth that she was smart and strong. The words sound similar to the ones Aibileen tells Mae Mobley repeatedly in "The Help". What effect do these words have on the children?

Who did you think was the best match for Elizabeth? At what point do you think Elizabeth was truly happy with her choice of Matthew?

Were you surprised at Edward's reaction on p. 204? Can you recall other scenes in literature or film that were similar?

As Elizabeth left Edward's house she kept telling herself, "I made the correct choice." (p. 204) Does reciting a mantra work for you? In what situations?

Was Elizabeth's entire exit strategy a good one? What parts would you have done differently?

Were you surprised that Mr. Wainwright offered money to Matthew? Did you think Matthew would accept it? (p. 209)

Compare Mattie's experiences with moving into the main house with Lisbeth's experiences as a grown woman without a servant. Who was at the bigger disadvantage? Whose lack of abilities were more surprising to you? (ref. p. 22 & p. 216)

Why did Ms. Ibrahim include the bit about Samuel/James being out late? Why was he not physically a part of the final chapters?

What surprised you most about the birth of Samuel Johnson?

Theme Ideas

Make shell necklaces and give them to someone you want to stay connected to. (ref. p. 67)

Serve veal cutlets with mushroom catsup, beefsteak pie, oyster soup, parsnips, young greens, wine and apple pudding, like when the Cunningham's came for supper on p. 106.

Serve scones with clotted cream, crumpets, sweet potato buns, canned peaches and pickled cucumbers like at Elizabeth's picnic on p. 158.

Serve teacakes with clotted cream, crustless watercress-and-cream-cheese sandwiches, tea and hot cocoa like Elizabeth's tea with Edward's mother at the beginning of Ch. 19.

Decorate with yellow crocuses and serve black-eyed peas.