The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau

We read this for one of my book clubs for black history month. It seems an odd choice for this, because, though it is set in the American South, over several generations, but mostly in the 60s, and it deal with race, it is mostly narrated by white characters. We hear very little of the black characters’ points of view.

We begin with the character that is just about our protagonist, Abigail. She was our present-day narrator, when the book was published in 1965. Then we jump back in time a few generations, to her ancestor, who comes to the area and claims some land, builds a farm, and a farmhouse, has various problems with Indians. Then his offspring have more offspring, things happen, we spend quite a while with Abigail’s grandfather and mother, and then we get back to Abigail, still in the same house.

It is quite difficult to review any further without huge spoilers. It is enough to say that the theme of the novel is race relations in the South in the 60s, the inequalities in their values, and the hypocrisy of many white people, who lived with black people, but considered them inferior. The book is also about the terrifying threat of the mob and the general ignorance and unnecessary hatred of the general public.

There is nothing new in this novel for me, I have read novels about slavery and the issues it caused in race relations before. Although perhaps it was ground-breaking in it’s day. If anything, it serves to remind me that this country endured institutionalised racism in it’s political system in living memory, which always shocks and sickens me when I do think about it. It is a very sad story with a sad ending.

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