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The Underground River

Tekijä: Martha Conway

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioKeskustelut
12616221,369 (3.65)-
"Set aboard a nineteenth century riverboat theater, this is the moving, page-turning story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress who is blackmailed into saving Ranaways on the Underground Railroad, jeopardizing her freedom, her livelihood, and a new love. It's 1838, and May Bedloe works as a seamstress for her cousin, the famous actress Comfort Vertue--until their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River. Though they both survive, both must find new employment. Comfort is hired to give lectures by noted abolitionist, Flora Howard, and May finds work on a small flatboat, Hugo and Helena's Floating Theatre, as it cruises the border between the northern states and the southern slave-holding states. May becomes indispensable to Hugo and his troupe, and all goes well until she sees her cousin again. Comfort and Mrs. Howard are also traveling down the Ohio River, speaking out against slavery at the many riverside towns. May owes Mrs. Howard a debt she cannot repay, and Mrs. Howard uses the opportunity to enlist May in her network of shadowy characters who ferry babies given up by their slave mothers across the river to freedom. Lying has never come easy to May, but now she is compelled to break the law, deceive all her new-found friends, and deflect the rising suspicions of Dr. Early who captures Ranaways and sells them back to their southern masters. As May's secrets become more tangled and harder to keep, the Floating Theatre readies for its biggest performance yet. May's predicament could mean doom for all her friends on board, including her beloved Hugo, unless she can figure out a way to trap those who know her best"--… (lisätietoja)
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englanti (15)  hollanti (1)  Kaikki kielet (16)
Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 16) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
May Bedloe has two serious problems, about to be multiplied by a third in this year of 1838. First, she takes care to speak the precise truth as she perceives it, and not a word more or less, refusing to countenance a lie, in herself or anyone else.

Her concrete approach to life amuses some and puzzles or puts off others, but in either case, leaves May feeling as if she’s not fit to make friends or be among people.

Secondly, she’s in thrall to her actress cousin, Comfort Vertue, who’s as self-absorbed and exploitive as they come. When Comfort isn’t abusing her younger cousin’s pliant nature, as in draining her life savings or demanding that she use her superb dressmaking skills to fix up the elder’s wardrobe, she lectures May about her character and tells her what she, May, wants.

But the cousins are abruptly sundered (and left destitute) when the Ohio River steamboat on which they’re traveling blows up near Cincinnati. All you need to know is that May saves a little girl she’s never met, whereas Comfort doesn’t even bother to let her cousin know she’s still alive, having been looking out for Number One.

Her skill at this game has led her to the home of a well-to-do abolitionist, Mrs. Howard, who promptly informs May that her presence is unwelcome. Elder cousin will now be retained as a stump speaker for the abolitionist cause, by which she’ll earn her keep; May should simply go elsewhere, right away. Home, maybe.

But home, in Oxbow, Ohio, no longer has anything to sustain May, and—you guessed it—Comfort doesn’t speak up for her. However, Thaddeus, a roguish actor of Comfort’s acquaintance, coaches May in her first lesson in lying, with which she pries twenty dollars out of Mrs. Howard, presumably for travel expenses back to Oxbow. Instead, that twenty goes to repair a certain boat in which the actor has an interest. Captain Cushing’s Floating Theater, which sails up and down the Ohio, mooring at towns where the citizenry might wish dramatic entertainment, now has a new seamstress/pianist/ticket taker.

No longer relegated to her cousin’s dressing room (from which Comfort often locked her out), May now lives and works among theater folk, eight of them. Consequently, her difficulties with artifice emerge and cause conflict with people who live by pretending to be what they’re not. Much humor ensues, and this unusual coming-of-age story boasts a raft (almost literally) of delightful stage types, from the acquisitive, overbearing Mrs. Niffen, whose husband never says a word, to Thaddeus, the trouper past his prime.
But there’s much more here. As May slowly wakes to the life of emotion and gray realities, she also wakes to slavery’s impact and the necessity to act against it. I won’t say more, except to note that her knowledge brings great danger, rendered with hair-raising vividness. And to keep the suspense, don’t read the jacket flap, which gives away too much, as though the publisher feared that potential readers would otherwise find the story lightweight.

I like how Conway has portrayed the towns along the Ohio River, whether on free soil or in Kentucky, a slave state, and how she doles out period details with a deft hand. I also admire her gift for characterization; I love tales about the theater, and these performers ring true to that lively art.

I also like how Conway refrains from granting May a full-character makeover. Our heroine learns a little, tasting the pleasures of suspension of disbelief and glimpses of human warmth. But she remains herself, ever concrete, seeking rules to live by, which seems psychologically accurate.

Comfort may be a little over the top, but there again, psychology holds sway: a masochist like May will invent reasons to bond to a narcissist, so Comfort's excess has a purpose. I mind more that the author, though normally careful with language, occasionally uses words like “feedback,” which don’t fit the era, and inserts the rare modern thought pattern. But these are quibbles. The Underground River is a wonderful book, and I recommend it. ( )
  Novelhistorian | Jan 24, 2023 |
This is a 5 star Historical Fiction novel set in a Mark Twain style story. I loved this book and didn't want it to end! The Underground River has a very unique storyline about a young costume seamstress aboard a riverboat theater in 1863 that travels up and down the Ohio river. This is a tale of making friends in unlikey places, a story of betrayal and blackmail, and involves abolitionists and the Underground Railroad. As a character driven read, I doubt I will ever forget this cast of unlikey misfits for a very long time. Standing ovation, clap clap clap! ( )
  vernefan | Sep 7, 2021 |
May Bedloe is the seamstress for her famous actress cousin, Comfort Vertue. May has been with Comfort since her parents passed away and feels secure in her routine and Comfort's knowledge of May's irregularities. May has always been very direct in her speech and has a hard time with anything that isn't exactly the truth. May's life changes when the steamboat she and Comfort are travelling on explodes on the Ohio River in 1838. May and Comfort lose everything. Comfort is soon snapped up by benefactress and abolitionist Flora Howard who will have Comfort speak for her cause. May is not included in this plan; so she decides that she will find employment on her own. May is hired on Hugo and Helena's Floating Theatre; but she needed to use the money Flora gave her to go home in order to get established. May soon finds herself an integral part of the Floating Theatre and comes into her own. When The Floating Theatre and Comfort's speaking tour cross paths, Flora uses May's place on a boat traveling from south to north for her own deed of transporting people to freedom, jeopardizing May's place in the Theatre.

The Underground River is a different look at how the Underground Railroad functioned and some of it's players. Interesting characters and the unique setting pulled me in. May's character has several quirks and might be on the autism spectrum if she lived in the present. Her directfulness and untouched insight gave a very honest look at the people around her; abolitionist Flora Howard is a bully using others to further her own cause, even Comfort kept May hidden and kept putting her down in order to raise herself up. The true heroes, Leo, Donaldson and Hugo shine through May's eyes. Though the book is about the Underground Railroad, the process and danger of the transport is really only half the story. Most of the story revolves around life on the river and the theatre. Through May's perspective, we get a good look at how the towns along the river in the North and South are all pretty similar except for the presence or absence of slavery and peoples attitudes about it. There is also an intimate look into theatre life and the distinctiveness of a riverboat theatre. The teamwork, diligence and creativeness of the entire crew is apparent. I do wish May had been a willing player in the transport instead of being blackmailed, she had the compassion for the job and believed in the cause, but the fact that she is being forced marred my view a bit. Overall, an exciting and insightful historical fiction read about the Underground Railroad and Theatre life.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. ( )
  Mishker | Jun 18, 2018 |
Underground River has a quality of powerful quietude centered around the main character inside of whom you stand observing the chaos all around. Conway has written this character so precisely and intimately that I felt a raw connection and investment in her welfare and celebration in her growth beyond the small world and pettiness in which she was trapped. It was a profoundly satisfying read. I've read all of Conway's previous books and they just get better and better. ( )
  missadventuring | Mar 21, 2018 |
Excerpted from a longer review at TheBibliophage.com.

The main character, May Bedloe, finds herself at loose ends after the steamboat she and her actress cousin are traveling on sinks in the Ohio River. Since she has mad seamstress skills, May finds a job quickly with a troupe that travels and performs on a flatboat. More than two-thirds of the book is the story of May's adjustment to this new life without her overbearing cousin. She must find her niche within the troupe, and is expected to do many things that stretch her comfort zone.

I wish the Underground part of the book had happened sooner and been more absorbing. May is forced to use the boat's travel patterns and location to ferry "packages" across the Ohio. I'm not telling you anything that's not on the book jacket. Those secret journeys just weren't all that suspenseful or plentiful. I wish they'd happened sooner in the story as well.

This was a 2.5/5 star book for me. I'll round it up to 3 because nothing annoyed me, even though that seems awfully sad. ( )
  TheBibliophage | Mar 20, 2018 |
Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 16) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
ei arvosteluja | lisää arvostelu
Sinun täytyy kirjautua sisään voidaksesi muokata Yhteistä tietoa
Katso lisäohjeita Common Knowledge -sivuilta (englanniksi).
Teoksen kanoninen nimi
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
Alkuteoksen nimi
Teoksen muut nimet
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
Alkuperäinen julkaisuvuosi
Henkilöt/hahmot
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
Tärkeät paikat
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
Tärkeät tapahtumat
Kirjaan liittyvät elokuvat
Epigrafi (motto tai mietelause kirjan alussa)
Omistuskirjoitus
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
For my father, Richard Conway, who toured the Ohio River with me.
Ensimmäiset sanat
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
When the steamboat Moselle blew apart just off its Cincinnati landing, I was sitting below deck in the ladies' cabin, sewing tea leaves into little muslin bags and plotting revenge on my cousin Comfort for laughing at me during dinner.
Sitaatit
Viimeiset sanat
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
Erotteluhuomautus
Julkaisutoimittajat
Kirjan kehujat
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
Alkuteoksen kieli
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
Kanoninen DDC/MDS
Kanoninen LCC

Viittaukset tähän teokseen muissa lähteissä.

Englanninkielinen Wikipedia

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"Set aboard a nineteenth century riverboat theater, this is the moving, page-turning story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress who is blackmailed into saving Ranaways on the Underground Railroad, jeopardizing her freedom, her livelihood, and a new love. It's 1838, and May Bedloe works as a seamstress for her cousin, the famous actress Comfort Vertue--until their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River. Though they both survive, both must find new employment. Comfort is hired to give lectures by noted abolitionist, Flora Howard, and May finds work on a small flatboat, Hugo and Helena's Floating Theatre, as it cruises the border between the northern states and the southern slave-holding states. May becomes indispensable to Hugo and his troupe, and all goes well until she sees her cousin again. Comfort and Mrs. Howard are also traveling down the Ohio River, speaking out against slavery at the many riverside towns. May owes Mrs. Howard a debt she cannot repay, and Mrs. Howard uses the opportunity to enlist May in her network of shadowy characters who ferry babies given up by their slave mothers across the river to freedom. Lying has never come easy to May, but now she is compelled to break the law, deceive all her new-found friends, and deflect the rising suspicions of Dr. Early who captures Ranaways and sells them back to their southern masters. As May's secrets become more tangled and harder to keep, the Floating Theatre readies for its biggest performance yet. May's predicament could mean doom for all her friends on board, including her beloved Hugo, unless she can figure out a way to trap those who know her best"--

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