Iola Leroy (or Shadows Uplifted) – Published in 1892

In my last post, I told you that I received two other books from Penguin Group. One of them is Iola Leroy, which I will review today: 

Frances Harper’s Iola Leroy tells an incredible story of struggle, conflict and survival and it is one of the first novels published by an African-American woman. 

The book begins with Iola Leroy, the beautiful young daughter of a rich white Mississippi planter and his wife, a former slave he has freed, educated and married. In order to protect Iola and her siblings from disdain and shame, the planter decides not to tell his children about their descent. Thus, he tries to avoid contact with other planters and sends his children north to be educated. But when her father suddenly dies, Iola is kidnapped and learns that her mother is of mixed race and that she was the former slave of her father. The young girl is sold into slavery and is separated from her family. Although she faces many ordeals and struggles to escape from the unrighteous intentions of her former owners through the Civil War, Iola still manages to remain faithful to herself and she blossoms into a courageous young woman. After she is freed by the Union Army, Iola is determined to search for her lost family, including her brother Harry. What she doesn’t know, is the fact that Harry has learned about the happenings and has joined a coloured Union regiment in order to rescue his sister. While Harry is trying to find her, Iola embraces her heritage and refuses to pass as white. When Dr. Gresham, her devoted admirer, wants to marry her, Iola refuses him because he wants her to keep her heritage a secret. Instead, she marries Dr. Latimer, who is also of mixed race and who appreciates Iola for her dedication to the black community and for her courage. Together they try to improve the condition of blacks in America and they fight for racial justice. After a long journey of search, suffering and resistance, Iola is finally reunited with her beloved family. 

Iola Leroy is a remarkable story of struggle, courage, deliverance and hope. It’s a must read for everyone as the author draws a vibrant picture of the Civil War and provides us with fascinating characters, allowing us to see such important historic events through African-American eyes. I really enjoyed reading this fictional work, as it deals with complex issues and it masterly presents a social chronicle!