I grabbed this off the New Releases shelf at the library without knowing anything about it except what the jacket flap told me: set in Reconstruction-era New Orleans. That's all I needed to know.
As you may know, I'm writing a retelling of Snow White that's set in the Old West, called One Bad Apple. It's set in the early 1870s, and most of the characters are African-American. One of them hails from New Orleans. So I figured this novel would be a good chance to do a little research of sorts, pick up some flavors and knowledge and so on for my own book, which I'm currently revising.
I was totally right. Also, this was an excellent book. It's all about a young African-American woman named Effie who is an embalmer. She was raised by a white doctor up north, after running away from her owners during the Civil War and being rescued by him while he was a surgeon in the Union Army. But she's returned to New Orleans because she believes she was born near there, and she wants to find out if she still has any relatives. Thanks to several traumatic events, she blocked out most of her memories of her childhood before finding the Yankee soldiers who rescued her, but she knows they found her near that city.
Over the course of the story, Effie does gradually remember much of her past. She makes new friends. She falls in love. She gets a job working for a white undertaker, and she gets involved with people working to protect the rights of black people in Louisiana as a whole. This was an engrossing read, and I finished it in just a few days. However, due to the subject matter, it is not what I would call a "nice" book, so approach with caution if you are squeamish or easily offended.
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R. There's a LOT about dead bodies and how to embalm them, there's a lot of violence both shown and mentioned, and there's some sexual content.