Friday, January 21, 2011

The Queen of Palmyra

The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin

From the Back of the Book

"I need you to understand how ordinary it all was. . . ."

In the turbulent southern summer of 1963, Millwood's white population steers clear of "Shake Rag," the black section of town. Young Florence Forrest is one of the few who crosses the line. The daughter of a burial insurance salesman with dark secrets and the town's "cake lady," whose backcountry bootleg runs lead further and further away from a brutal marriage, Florence attaches herself to her grandparents' longtime maid, Zenie Johnson. Named for Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, Zenie treats the unwanted girl as just another chore, while telling her stories of the legendary queen's courage and cunning.

The more time Florence spends in Shake Rag, the more she recognizes how completely race divides her town, and her story, far from ordinary, bears witness to the truth and brutality of her times—a truth brought to a shattering conclusion when Zenie's vibrant college-student niece, Eva Greene, arrives that fateful Mississippi summer.

Minrose Gwin's The Queen of Palmyra is an unforgettable evocation of a time and a place in America—a nuanced, gripping story of race and identity.

My Thoughts

This book was very well written. It is not a light Southern story by any means. It is a story that will put you in a place and time in our countries Civil Rights Movement. While reading this book I truly felt what it must have been like during that time period. I felt compassion for Florence as she narrates her story. She is stuck with a father who is abusive and a racist and a mother who bakes cakes and is an unstable alcoholic. I felt no one really had her best interests at heart until she became attached to Zenie, her grandparents' maid. Knowing the book was set in Mississippi in 1963, I knew the relationship between the two might cause conflict. The town of Millwood is segregated and when Zenie's niece, Eva comes to town, things are shaken up a bit. The story does move a little slow at times but I think it reflects the time and place of where the story takes place. Times were slower then, people weren't in such a hurry. I found the ending a bit rushed but satisfying. I think this book is great for book groups as there is much to discuss.

I received this book from the publisher through Goodreads First Reads for my honest opinion.


  1. I love Southern fiction, and I'm okay with books that move slowly, so I want to take a second look at this one. Is it at all similar to The Help?

  2. I would say it is somewhat similar to The Help but The Help is in a league all of it's own.

  3. I have read some good review on this one; right now it's on my wishlist. Thanks for the review; I think you're spot on when you talk about the slow pace - it's probably fitting for the novel and the time period.

  4. You have good books this week - I want the Picoult and Queen of P.. too! Enjoy!


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