The Undertaker’s Assistant

Kensington. Jul. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9781496713681. pap. $15.95ebk. ISBN 9781496713698. F
Euphemia “Effie” Jones, born into slavery in Louisiana, escaped as a child and became the ward of a well-known white surgeon from Indiana. While serving as the surgeon’s assistant during the Civil War, she became a skilled undertaker and embalmer, then after the Civil War moved to New Orleans to be an embalmer for a local undertaker and reconnect with her past. In New Orleans, Effie, staunchly practical, forms an unlikely friendship with Adeline, a charming and elegant Creole woman, who introduces Effie to local society. Effie falls for Samson Greene, a freedman and state politician, and begins participating in local political events and clubs organized by Samson. As Effie forms relationships and settles in New Orleans, she begins to remember key moments in her traumatic past. Set in a time of sweeping historical change, Effie’s story is one of personal growth, self-discovery, friendship, and betrayal.
VERDICT Effie’s community of freedmen and Creoles in Reconstruction New Orleans is unforgettable. Skenandore’s second novel (after Between Earth and Sky) is recommended for readers who enjoy medical historical fiction reminiscent of Diane McKinney-Whetstone’s Lazaretto, and historical fiction with interpersonal drama.

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