3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
The Mulatto Wars, written by James Clayton Terry, is a work of historical fiction set in New Orleans between 1789 and 1815. Readers follow Julia Océanna Calderón, aka Gato (cat), due to “her catty evasions and agility on the jousting floor,” as she meets and falls in love with Victoire Toblowsky. Both of them have mixed racial heritages. Victoire’s family is from the isles of Saint-Domingue; the turbulences there made him flee to New Orleans, where he thrived. Gato’s mother, Giselle, is an orphan of the Mexican revolution.
What I most enjoyed about the book was the fact-based setting; the plot unfolds against a rich historical and cultural background. The author cleverly depicts how the region got fueled by the slave economy and massive plantations along the Mississippi River. Terry portrays how the Creoles, American-born children of European settlers, many with Spanish and French blood, created an elegant and cosmopolitan community in New Orleans. I appreciated how the Creole ladies often used French words and were identified by their decorative hair combs and mantillas.
Additionally, the author also gives a moving account of the yellow fever pandemic in New Orleans at the time. There was great suffering, with “humanity pining away in troubled breathing,” being hastily buried in mass graves. Given the current circumstances, I was particularly touched by these parts.
The characters are also well-developed. I especially liked how the author developed Gato. With ashen blond hair, she is self-assured, strong, refined, and mysterious. A tomboyish swordswoman, she spent time in France in fencing salons and among French intellectuals. However, she was disappointed that her heroes, Voltaire and Montesquieu, “had never been friends of Negro equality.” Giselle, Gato’s mother, is a layered character as well.
Above all, the book cleverly examines what it meant to have mixed racial heritage and not being classified as white. The author probes several ramifications of being “children of the dusk.” There’s an enlightening and somewhat revolting examination of racial bigotry and the definitions of mulatto, octoroon, quadroon, tierceron, and griffs according to President Jefferson’s system of “Negro amalgams.”
Lastly, I rate The Mulatto Wars 3 out of 4 stars. There are no negatives worth mentioning, and I had great fun reading it. Unfortunately, I am taking a star away for the editing errors. I believe this novel of historical fiction will appeal to readers interested in racial issues, particularly the Latino and African American communities. It should also interest readers who are fond of New Orleans and its multicultural heritage.
The Mulatto Wars
View: on Bookshelves