In the glory days before the War Between the States, Chinaberry was one of the grandest plantations along the Mississippi, and Julia was the apple of her doting father’s eye. Growing up alone with no playmates close at hand, young slave Darby became her fast friend and he was eventually *given* to Julia, and the two remained devoted friends until the actions of an evil man force Darby to flee Chinaberry.

No, I’m not spoiling, because as the book opens it is told in alternating periods of Before and After, and right at the first chapter you are seeing Darby returning 20+ years later with his partner/friend Travis. You know he ran away, the question is why did he run away? In After, Darby and Travis have purchased a large ranch in California, but before they set down roots Darby feels the need to return to Chinaberry and close the ties he left behind. The Before section is set in 1848 and recounts the events leading up to Darby’s escape, and then the story switches to what the men find when they arrive at Chinaberry – has it survived the ravages of war? Is Julia really the mad witch the locals think she is?

This really is one of those too hard to try to explain what happens without giving it all away kind of books, and I’m not going there (I have better things to do today). What I will tell you is that despite the very lurid description on the back cover, this is not a smutty book at all. There was very little sex, and what there was pretty much over with in a page or two – so if you’re looking for smut keep on looking. This is a hard book to rate, since it did keep me turning the pages, but in the end I really didn’t feel a strong connection for any of the characters. I would recommend this for those interested in a closer look at the underside of plantation life, but do be warned – this book was written in 1976 and long before we became so terribly politically correct. There are no punches pulled in this book and that includes liberal use of the “n” word, and this book is not going to suit every reader. Plantation buffs will likely enjoy this, but if you like your books on the fluffy side I suggest you give it a miss. 3.5/5 stars.

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