At the dawn of the 20th century, a family in the Gullah community of coastal South Carolina – former West African slaves who adopted many of their ancestors’ Yoruba traditions – suffers a generational split.

Young Haagar (Kaycee Moore) wants to move to the mainland away from tradition-bound matriarch Nana (Cora Lee Day). Former prostitute Yellow Mary (Barbara-O) gets a cold shoulder when she returns to the island with her female lover, especially from her sister Viola (Cheryl Lynn Bruce).

On the Sea Islands off the coast of the Carolinas, Native Americans and African slaves, “”de ancients and de captives,”” intermingled apart from mainland whites and formed the culture known as Gullah, or Geechee. Set in 1926, this jubilant novel follows New Yorker Amelia Varnes on a Zora Neale Hurston-like expedition to these islands–her ancestral home–as she researches her thesis for a degree in anthropology. At first put off by the islanders’ suspicion of mainland blacks, Amelia soon forms a close bond with her cousin Elizabeth, who was also educated on the mainland and who begins to teach Amelia island traditions and remedies (the book is sprinkled with recipes, a la Like Water for Chocolate). Eventually accepted by her extended family, Amelia meets a colorful set of local characters–including juke-joint owner Carrie Mae, gun-toting peacekeeper Toadie and the seductive drummer Boaz–and learns the secrets of her own Gullah roots. Well plotted and free of stereotypes, this novelized version of Dash’s eponymous movie introduces the reader to a fascinating, largely vanished way of life and does it with the painterly eye that won Dash’s film the award for best cinematography at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. (Oct.)

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