Review – Golden Poppies by Laila Ibrahim
For some reason I wanted to start writing this review half way through the book. I felt like the story was quite slow to unfold compared to the first two books of the series, Yellow Crocus and Mustard Seed. I don’t think I reveal a big secret by telling you that Mattie dies after the first 100 pages or so. Reading the back of the book gave me the impression that the whole story is centered upon the final moments of Mattie and on her relationship with her daughter, Jordan and her ‘almost-daughter’, Lisbeth. So when she died, I didn’t know how Ibrahim would continue the story or what else could be in store. She surprised me and surpassed all my expectations. Mattie’s death turned out to be the basis of the story, Mattie being the soil itself where the seeds of hope, faith and connection can truly grow and thrive. Her death brings the women closer together than ever – a bond that, hopefully will not be broken by anything this time around.
The relationship between these strong women who seemingly don’t have much in common allows Ibrahim to explore the topics of domestic violence, the suffrage movement of the 1890’s, the Pullman Strike and the anti-miscegenation laws. It is set in a time that is so incredibly exciting in terms of social change that it almost feels like these topics could have been developed even further. Who knows, maybe she will write a fourth book… Fingers crossed!
As far as historic accuracy goes, Golden Poppies is the one that focuses most on the great figures and socio-political campaigns of the time. Laila Ibrahim mentions devoted activists and writers such as Ida B. Wells, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass who all contributed so much to the advancement of colored people and women’s rights. Through Jordan, Ibrahim pays respect to Sojourner Truth, an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who was the first colored woman to win a court case against a white man (she went to court in 1828 to recover her son after her former master illegally sold the five year old boy).
Sojourner Truth’s story is very much present in the Yellow Crocus trilogy through Mattie and Jordan’s journey to freedom and Jordan’s deep-rooted desire that women have equal rights to men, but most importantly that black women have equal rights to that of white women (and consequently white men).
Out of the three books, Golden Poppies is the most politically infused. I loved how Ibrahim managed to place her characters in the midst of this political turmoil and present the many-faceted feelings that they have for one another. I especially loved the descriptions of Jordan’s conflicting feelings towards Lisbeth (both because she is a white woman and because she was so very important to her mother) and her ability to rise above them and make space in her heart for every member of the Johnson family.
“For all our children we must plant the seeds of a liberty tree so that they may eat the fruit of justice we will never taste.”
The metaphor of the sower and seed is beautifully intertwined with the whole of the story and is present in all three books of Laila Ibrahim’s trilogy. The three books present characters without whose courage and determination the world would be even further behind as far as civil rights and the liberty of all people are concerned.
In Golden Poppies, much like in the first two books, there is a powerful new metaphor that sort of frames the whole of narrative: the golden poppies (duh!). I think that these flowers represent the fragile beauty of a world yet to come but almost here. The freedoms that our beloved characters enjoy are incredibly frail. They have come a long way but still have a hard journey ahead of them. This is where the earlier metaphors, the yellow crocus and the mustard seeds come back and connect with the metaphor of the golden poppies: they still need to hope for a better future (yellow crocus) and they still need to do everything in their power to fulfill their dreams (sow the mustard seeds).
The image of the women in these books is ever so eternal in that they are strong and are not afraid to take control of their lives even in the face of adversity. The message of the book, therefore, is just as important in today’s day and age as it would have been during the Gilded Age.
What surprised me the most is Ibrahim’s depiction of Sadie’s husband, Heinrich and the way she slowly and subtly unpacked their relationship to its rotten core. Sadie was my favorite character in this part of the trilogy because she was the one I felt for the most. In spite of, or maybe thanks to the hardships that she has to come through in her young life make her a woman we all should strive to be like.
I have gotten close to the (fictional) people in the Yellow Crocus trilogy and I almost feel like they are my family too. I’m sad that there might not ever be a continuation of this wonderful series, but then again, this way I can give the best possible life to all of these characters that they deserve. Unfortunately, there is no news (yet) of there being a fourth part to the series, but one can only hope…
What did you think about Sadie’s relationship with her husband, Heinrich (particularly about how she chose to deal with his mood swings)?
It’s undeniable that Jordan and Lisbeth share a sort of sisterly love towards one another. Do you think they will be able to keep in touch this time around?
I didn’t write about Naomi and Willie’s relationship in my review (I can’t spoil the whole book, after all), but what do you think about the choices that they made?
Golden Poppies by Laila Ibrahim was just as good as Yellow Crocus and Mustard Seed (if not better). I don’t think it’s surprising then that I give this book a Five Fox Rating. 🦊🦊🦊🦊🦊
If you would like to read my reviews of the first two books in the trilogy, click on the links below! 💙
I will leave a couple of ‘fun facts’ here for you that may be helpful for you to know before reading Golden Poppies.
The Pullman Strike
“In 1893, during a nationwide economic recession, George Pullman laid off hundreds of employees and cut wages for many of the remaining workers. Meanwhile, he refused to lower rents or store prices in Pullman, Illinois, where many of his employees lived. Angry Pullman workers walked out in May 1894, and the following month. The Pullman strike effectively halted rail traffic and commerce in 27 states stretching from Chicago to the West Coast, driving the General Managers Association (GMA), a group that represented Chicago’s railroad companies, to seek help from the federal government in shutting the strike down.” (Source: history.com)
“Anti-miscegenation laws were edicts that made it unlawful for African Americans and white people to marry or engage each other in intimate relationships. The measures first appeared in the United States in colonial times and had two functions. First, the laws helped maintain the racial caste system necessary for the expansion of slavery and the idea of white supremacy. Second, anti-miscegenation statutes gave white men greater power to control the sexual choices of white women.” (Source: Encyclopedia of Arcansas)
Ida B. Wells
“Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a prominent journalist, activist, and researcher, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her lifetime, she battled sexism, racism, and violence. As a skilled writer, Wells-Barnett also used her skills as a journalist to shed light on the conditions of African Americans throughout the South.” (Source: Women’s History)
“Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave who became a prominent activist, author and public speaker. He became a leader in the abolitionist movement, which sought to end the practice of slavery, before and during the Civil War. After that conflict and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, he continued to push for equality and human rights until his death in 1895.” (Source: history.com)
Susan B. Anthony
She was an “American activist who was a pioneer crusader for the women’s suffrage movement in the United States and was president (1892–1900) of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Her work helped pave the way for the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote.” (Source: Britannica)
“Sojourner Truth was an African American evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author who was born into slavery before escaping to freedom in 1826. After gaining her freedom, Truth preached about abolitionism and equal rights for all. She became known for a speech with the famous refrain, “Ain’t I a Woman?” that she was said to have delivered at a women’s convention in Ohio in 1851, although accounts of that speech (and whether Truth ever used that refrain) have since been challenged by historians. Truth continued her crusade throughout her adult life, earning an audience with President Abraham Lincoln and becoming one of the world’s best-known human rights crusaders.” (Source: history.com)
If you liked the review and would like to read the book, you can find it by clicking on one of the links below:
Thank you for reading this review, let me know if you liked it in the comment section below. Also, consider subscribing and sharing with your friends as well! 💙