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Racism: All the more painful from inside a member of a minority
Self Identity at Odds with Societal Norms
Have you ever looked at someone and felt you were too good for him or her? Perhaps this was just an involuntary feeling you had when your order is incorrect at a fast food restaurant or perhaps as you are exiting the bathroom as a service tech was coming in to clean it. As you sheepishly try to suppress such feelings, ever wonder what would happen if you let those fleeting feelings of superiority fester and grow? The story in Blues in the Wind, focuses on a woman with just such thoughts which yielded terrible consequences for both her and those closest to her. See how unchecked racism and superiority can destroy an entire family.
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What happens when the inner you does not match the outer you
This story stars Martha Fergerson, a stunningly beautiful creole woman living in segregated Louisiana. She sees herself as coming from a white family, tricked out of her rightful inheritance and thus always hoping and scheming to renew her place in society. She marries a black man who she believed through medical school would help her reacquire her inheritance and rightful place in society and thus could overlook his color. Yet after she gets pregnant early in their life together, he drops out and never returns. This begins her life begins to get filled with disappointments from her family that she feels should never have happened and builds a sense of resentment that morphs into rage against those she feels superior towards and feels kept her down. In most cases this resentment is directed against the southern blacks who she never felt a part of and continues to feel superior toward. Imagine having such anger and such convictions that they can overcome all typical bonds within a family especially between a mother and her children or a husband and wife. To see the life of a woman and actually an entire town with convictions so strong they can drown out normal relationships takes a unique person and situation.
This story of course does not just follow Martha, but includes her brother who faced many of the same prejudices but channels his emotions in a very different and much more productive way. Using his love of blues music he continues to persevere against adversity and drive toward happiness and fulfillment in ways not entirely expected at the onset of his story (and always quite contrary to Martha's beliefs).
Martha's children struggle to keep their love of their mother in balance with their own beliefs many of which are closer toward acceptable culture norms. While each child is unique, they tend to find a niche in society that they find comfort and support inside. Alas in almost all cases their mother turns her resentment against what she thinks is evil and incorrect places for HER children. Finally Martha's husband, who has sworn his life to his wife but faces such unbelievable hatred and challenges from her, sometimes needs to seek comfort from other places. He tries to find his own fulfillment in life and yet finds he can not seek meaningful advice or support from his own wife.
All of these interpersonal conflicts take place while the south is trying to dig itself out from its own cultural revolution taking place in the 1930s. This is still a white led society where each character faces bigotry and societal obstacles. One common thread throughout all the characters and sub-plots is the resounding influence of Southern Blues music. It is an interesting way to examine a social structure with the concept of the one foundational pillar is popular music. This is truly rich experience from all perspectives with no lack of twists and turns.
What we can take away from this story
It is far too easy to simply say that this book helps illustrate the tremendous suffering that unchecked prejudice can play on a family and a society. I feel that this is obvious to us all with examples throughout history.
Instead there is a subtler message involving the sub-plot of blues music. Throughout this story a common theme that drives many of the characters is a love of foot stomping, heart pumping good ol’ Southern Blues. The most common refrain is that no matter what terrible things happen in life, ‘keep on going’ and roll with the music. This attitude is so much more unbelievable when people who had almost nothing loses so much in unjustifiable ways and continue to move forward. When a drunk police officer shoots a black bar owner because he could not get what he wants and gets away with it. Or a black man tries to participate in his legal right to vote and is beaten up without any legal repercussions. And yet every time when the unthinkable happens, they take solace in the music and knowledge that all they can do is keep moving and try to better themselves anyway they can. Not such a bad mantra for any of us when adversity comes our way.
My overall review of this book
One of the greatest joys I have in reading a book is getting truly enveloped in a story mentally and emotionally. As you turn each page you fall deeper into the lives of the characters and by the end of the book almost feel you were there living the experience. Blues in the Wind, is one of the books that subtly welcomes the reader into the lives and pain of the deep south in the 1930s and allows you to live in a different era.
What I found most fascinating in this story is even as you read and get more angry at the antagonist, each chapter begins with her innermost thoughts that humanizes her and shows how she justifies her actions. With each chapter you understand a little more the nature of this woman who at times you might consider pure evil, at other times having blinders on that she just can’t take off. To be able to know the inner most thoughts while still seeing the story from other perspectives is a treat that makes this book so much more powerful than expected.
Overall this book is bound to make you think about the south differently and open your eyes to a different perspective. I strongly recommend picking up this very approachable and easy book.
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An Interview with author Whitney LeBlanc
Q: Did any of this story come from experiences either you or your family has had?
A: I grew up in Louisiana. I am a Creole. my entire life was spent in the environment about which I write. Most of the events cited in the book are ones that I observed, so they are true and factual. In my book the events are experienced by fictional people of my creation. The only experience by a real person is the one cited by my grandfather, Felix Mack who was actually responsible for creating the teacher training program for the state.
Q: What are you most proud of with this story?
A: The information about Creole attitudes about religion, race and music.
Q: Why did you want to become an author?
A: For as long as I can remember I have written, speeches, narrative, my feelings, plays, film scripts, treatments etc. Finally I decided to try novels and this is the results. it's a good feeling. I have written 3 so far.
Q: What are your aspirations for the future?
A: To continue writing historical fiction and someday get a Pultizer. I am presently researching the life of a great, great grandmother who was an Attakapa Indian Medician woman who was married to my great, great grandfather, Placide LeBlanc from Carencaro Louisiana.
About author Whitney J. LeBlanc
A Louisiana native, Whitney J. LeBlanc has been a teacher, writer, producer, set designer, and award-winning theatre director. He spent more than half of his 50-year career in Hollywood as a director for television. LeBlanc is the author of Blues in the Wind and Shadows of the Blues. He holds a master’s in theatre arts production from the University of Iowa. LeBlanc lives with his physician wife in California’s Napa Valley, where he writes novels and creates stained-glass windows.