The night of Lincoln’s assassination, a young African-American midwife named Sylvia delivers her first baby. In concert with the doctor and at the request of the baby’s father, Sylvia tell the young mother that her child perished. Meda, the baby’s mother, seeks solace in caring for two orphaned, white infant boys, but is forever haunted by the loss of the child she conceived with her white employer.
Diane McKinney-Whetstone’s new novel, Lazaretto, explores the complexities of racial identity and the strength of black women living in late nineteenth century Philadelphia. The first half of the novel follows the exploits of Meda’s young orphans, named Linc and Bram after the slain president, who grow up at home in both the white and African-American communities of Philadelphia. In the novel’s second half, the action is confined to the grounds of the Lazaretto, a quarantine hospital where the now middle-aged Sylvia works as head nurse. This section reads as a thriller, complete with a shooting, a potential yellow fever outbreak, and a wedding. In all, Lazaretto is a well-written historical novel that discusses important topics of race, passing, and the realities of racism and poverty for African-Americans living in post-Civil War Philadelphia.
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book with a one word title