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A mother and daughter with a shared talent for healing—and for the conjuring of curses—are at the heart of this dazzling first novel
LONGLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE • “Lush, irresistible . . . It took me into the hearts of women I could otherwise never know. I was transported.”—Amy Bloom, New York Times bestselling author of White Houses and Away
Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.
Magnificently written, brilliantly researched, richly imagined, Conjure Women moves back and forth in time to tell the haunting story of Rue, Varina, and May Belle, their passions and friendships, and the lengths they will go to save themselves and those they love.
Praise for Conjure Women
“[A] haunting, promising debut . . . Through complex characters and bewitching prose, Atakora offers a stirring portrait of the power conferred between the enslaved women. This powerful tale of moral ambiguity amid inarguable injustice stands with Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An engrossing debut . . . Atakora structures a plot with plenty of satisfying twists. Life in the immediate aftermath of slavery is powerfully rendered in this impressive first novel.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
About the Author
Afia Atakora was born in the United Kingdom and raised in New Jersey, where she now lives. She graduated from New York University and has an MFA from Columbia University, where she was the recipient of the De Alba Fellowship. Her fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and she was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers.
“Afia Atakora brings the Civil War South to life so beautifully with Conjure Women, a heartbreaking joy to read.”—Martha Hall Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of Lilac Girls
“If you are grieving for Toni Morrison, Afia Atakora is the young writer to read now: the kind of historical novelist who makes you believe she must have somehow seen the places she describes and known these characters herself. Her astonishing debut takes the reader to a Reconstruction-era Southern plantation, where two little girls—the enslaved child of the local healer and the planter’s cloistered daughter—become unlikely friends. Conjure Women illuminates an unfamiliar corner of Civil War history and brings to life an indelible character whose talents, from midwifery to voodoo, will yield her own unconventional path to power and freedom.”—Nell Freudenberger, author of Lost and Wanted
“[An] affecting story.”—Newsweek
“In Conjure Women Afia Atakora masterfully centers two generations of women, folk healers who carry the secrets of their community while bearing the brunt of its antebellum past and its reconstructed present. Telling a gripping story at once grand and intimate, Atakora renders humanity in all its beautiful fits and flaws. Page after page, her voice announces itself like a thunderclap. The women in this novel will blessedly stick with you long after the last word has been read.”—Caleb Johnson, author of Treeborne
“Secrets, heartache, and healing fill this story spanning two generations of women living in the South before and after the Civil War. Atakora’s writing grips you from the first page of this soon-to-be-published novel. It’s no surprise that she is being hailed as a successor to Toni Morrison.”—The Week
“Conjure Women is a beautifully written novel that explores bondage and freedom through the lives of vividly drawn women who will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page. Afia Atakora is a writer of extraordinary talent and depth, and this spellbinding debut is a must-read.”—Anissa Gray, author of The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
“Richly imagined and elegantly rendered, Conjure Women transports us into the lives of powerfully determined women. Their intricate web of secrets will keep you turning its pages. Ambitious, hypnotic, not quite devastating, Conjure Women marks the arrival of a major new voice.”—Chinelo Okparanta, author of Under the Udala Trees and Happiness, Like Water
“Atakora paces her novel beautifully, slowly unwinding the plot in unexpected ways as she examines a relatively unexplored aspect of American history.”—BookPage (starred review)
“Deftly interwoven and emotionally involving . . . Atakora effectively handles the before-during-and-after structure, enriching her story. . . . Highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)