Updated: Mar 31
by Natasha Boyd
The brilliance of blue
Deep, intense cobalt blue is one of my favorite colors. Maybe that's why I was drawn to a novel titled The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd. Plus, it doesn't hurt that I love historical fiction!
The Indigo Girl is historical fiction set between 1739 and 1744 that translates the real life of Eliza Lucas into an interesting story. Set in South Carolina before the Revolution, the novel deals with issues of importance: treatment of slaves, roles and rights of women, right to literacy, relationships between races, and economic struggles between countries.
Eliza Lucas was a 16-year-girl, the oldest child of a wealthy landowner. Her family had come to South Carolina from Antigua where she had grown up. Eliza's grandfather had acquired land in America and owned three plantations, which her father now manages.
The Lucas family does have two sons, but they are younger than Eliza and are off at boarding school in England. Eliza, however, should have been a male. Her father has educated her, mentored her, and trained her in plantation management, much to the disgust of Eliza's mother, a woman who is often "sick" and "abed" with mental stress. Eliza's mother hates South Carolina and desperately wants to move back to Antigua.
Eliza's impossible task
When Eliza's father decides to take a post in Antigua with the hope of becoming the Governor of Antigua, he leaves Eliza in charge of all three of his plantations, a move totally against cultural norms - and much against the wishes of her mother.
To keep the plantations profitable and successfully manage the crops, Eliza must not only overcome prejudices against women, but she must battle a cruel, vindictive overseer, a vengeful slave, and the never-ending push to force her into marriage. On top of all that, she discovers that her father has taken out loans on the properties that put the family's future at risk.
Determined not to let her father down, Eliza fixates on the idea that she could grow indigo, a crop common in Antigua but not commercially grown in America. She studies everything she can find. She cultivates relationships with anyone who knows anything about indigo, freeman and slave alike.
Eliza writes to her father in Antigua and begs him to send an indigo consultant so that her crops will be successful. He does, and a consultant arrives with Ben, the slave in Antigua who had been Eliza's best friend and confidante. It is Ben that knows how to grow indigo, but the arrogant, incompetent consultant takes all the credit.
What follows is Eliza's epic battle to grow indigo and save her family's fortunes. While I won't give you the outcome so you can enjoy reading it yourself, the fact that the book is based on fact only makes it more satisfying.
The thrill of letters and diary entries
My favorite part of the book was the integration of entries from the actual letters and diaries of Eliza Lucas into the framework of the book.
What's better for character development than for the character to have authentic dialogue?
The closer "fiction" gets to "history," the better I like it, and using actual words pulled from historical documents kicks the book up a notch in my estimation!
A new appreciation of indigo
Whether or not you like the color blue, The Indigo Girl is a good read that will give you a new appreciation of the persistence of one little-known woman three nearly 300 years ago.
While I love the color blue, I had never given even a single thought as to what it takes to process indigo, so this book was a revelation to me.
Without spoiling the plot, I will tell you that Eliza Lucas made such a mark on the people of coastal South Carolina that when she died, a young man named George Washington was a pallbearer at her funeral!
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