House of Rougeaux is a fascinating family saga by Jenny Jaeckel that, unlike the usual saga, jumps around in time and place from generation to generation, though coming full circle in a beautiful final chapter. The story begins in Martinique with Abeje, a young slave who becomes a great healer. Though she had no children, her brother had one daughter, Hettie, who had to be fostered at another plantation when his wife died. When he finally got leave to visit, he discovered she and her foster mother has been sold away. Fate intervened and Abeje found her when she was ten and he was able to see her once before she went to Montreal, Canada, with the daughters of the family who owned her. There she met Dax Rougeaux, a free black man, who bought her freedom.This is the beginning of the House of Rougeaux.
From there, the story jumps ahead a few generations to Nelie and Azzie, cousins and Hettie’s great-great-grandchildren in Philadelphia to Azzie’s youngest sister, then to Martine, Hettie’s great=granddaughter from the part of the family that stayed in Montreal. Then to Hetty, and then her son, and then his daughter. It might seem odd to jump like that, but it comes together beautifully.
I enjoyed House of Rougeaux quite a bit. The family’s story is fascinating. There is a touch of magic realism, or maybe, just magic. Abeje is a healer with mystical powers, Josie, Hettie’s youngest, can “see” and so can Nelie. But it’s not about folk medicine and magic, the real magic is family love, the sticking together, supporting each other.
Jaeckel does a great job weaving history into her story. There are historical characters in the story, though none of them are part of the Rougeaux family. Their role is organic and rooted in the family’s story, not the other way around.
One of my favorite insights in the story was when Hettie reveled in the freedom of her children, how they “wailed wildly” where she had learned to be quiet and subservient. The plot and characters are the strongest elements of House of Rougeaux. Sometimes the prose feels more like the family histories written by my cousins, unadorned, just the facts, ma’am writing. It’s not bad writing, but it is less interesting than the people and their lives.
The first and last chapters, though, are magical.
House of Rougeaux will be released April 24th. I received an ARC from Raincloud Press through a LibraryThing drawing.