Book: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author: Kim Michele Richardson
I’d promised you (and myself) that I’d read and review The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek right after I read Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. The books are both based on women packhorse librarians of Kentucky and were said to be very similar in content. Finally, after wandering off a little bit, here I am.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek tells the story of Cussy Mary Carter. Cussy suffers from a rare genetic disease that results in blue skin. She is called Bluet and is ostracised by the townsfolk, along with other ‘colored’ folks.
She joins the packhorse librarian initiative started by Eleanor Roosevelt, and brings books and other reading material to the people on the hills. Cussy loves books. The written word gets her pulse racing. She has read everything from Pearl S Buck to Aldous Huxley. She is perhaps the best-read person in the town. And yet, she is looked down upon, ridiculed and considered completely unworthy.
A curious doctor tries to find out the reason for her ‘blueness’ and succeeds too (It’s due to the deficiency of a particular enzyme). Bluet is cured for a while but hates the side effects of the drugs that include severe nausea and vomiting. Yet, so desperate is she to be a part of the mainstream of society that she goes along with it. However, the deeply ingrained prejudice against her doesn’t disappear with her blue colour. Finally, she chooses to stop trying to fit in.
Her work, hard and demanding as it is, is her only happiness. And that’s where she finds love too, though it comes at a cost.
What I thought of it
I’ll come straight to the point, without beating about the bush (did you get that?), and say that I loved the book.
The author tackles multiple issues, all close to my heart. She talks of racism and how cruel it was. It is even now, but back in the early nineties, it was way worse than we can ever imagine. It was sanctioned by law. For instance, there was a law prohibiting marriages between whites and coloureds.
Through The Book Woman, I got to know about the Blue people of Kentucky. I found out that they really did exist and also that there really was a place called Troublesome Creek.
And there’s more.
I’d give The Book Woman a hundred out of ten on authenticity. It is a wonderfully researched book. The tone, the language, the customs and traditions, all transport you to Kentucky of the early nineties.
Cussy, the Book Woman
I fell in love with the self-effacing Cussy. While she was the most docile woman you’d ever meet and also very conscious of her standing in the society (or rather the lack of it), she had a certain doggedness that made her persevere despite all odds. She traversed the most treacherously prohibitive terrain, through flowing rivers and heart-stopping narrow mountain trails to get to her readers. I loved how she zealously she picked out reading material requested by her readers. Her pleasure at the thought of their happiness was infectious. Also, I loved how hard she tried to get people to read, sometimes even tricking them into it. That was endearing.
The focus on books and love for reading
I loved how books were such an inherent part of the narrative. The love and longing for reading were touching. It was miraculous that the hunger people had for books, even young children, surpassed their physical hunger. One part of me tells me that’s unbelievable, impossible even, but another part of me wants to believe it – that the thirst for knowledge and the lure of reading surpasses physical needs.
The love story
Cussy finds love on the mountains. Not many pages are devoted to it, there is barely any romance, yet the love story is very real.
Richardson’s Book Woman vs Moyes’ Giver of Stars
It’s not right to compare two books but I had to do this because Richardson accused Moyes of plagiarising her book and that’s what led me to this wonderful read in the first place.
Here’s my review of the The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.
I wasn’t convinced about the charges but the fact remains that the two books are very similar in content. They are, however, different in their treatment of the subject.
The Book Woman is way better researched, way more authentic. Cussy’s passion for books and reading is greater than that of all the women put together in The Giver of Stars and that makes the book so much more of a treat.
In Moyes’ book, the individual stories of the women took up a lot of space and that wasn’t all bad because I did love the stories, but their job as librarians didn’t get as much of a spotlight as I’d have liked. However, that also made the narrative more complex with many stories entwined together. The Book Woman, on the other hand, is the story of Cussy with a simple linear narrative.
If The Book Woman were a classic, The Giver of Stars would be the pop version, more fluff, more drama, easier to read and easier to connect with.
If you ask me which one you should read, I’d say why choose? Read both.
Last thought: Go for it.