Olivia's marriage to an African-American man was unacceptable to her mother Emma, Southern-bred descendant of prominent South Carolina slaveholders. Olivia assumed that bigotry was the product of her mother's loyalty to long-dead relatives, an allegiance to maintain the family's white blood line. After Emma's death though, Olivia finds a letter and an old journal among her belongings. Soon, she discovers the secret that prompted Emma to irrationally blame an entire race - a secret that had nothing to do with family history, although it strongly paralleled another tragic event from the past.
1846, Marianne Witherell's journal: Before Lincoln and the American Civil War, slavery is at its peak in South Carolina. A young slave girl named Willa suddenly arrives at Heavenly Plantation with her mother Heddie, destined to serve the wealthy plantation family as house servants. Right away, two of the Master's children - Marianne and Seth - forge a bond with Willa, in spite of their older brother Foster's warnings about the evils of mixing with the "darkies".
Although she grows up in the "big house" treated like family by her pair of white friends, Willa cannot forget that she is still a slave. Never is that fact made clearer than when Foster cruelly taunts and threatens her in secret. As it threads through the lives of its diverse characters, this novel captures the complicated and often violent nature of life in the antebellum South.
As Willa's story is told, a dramatic tapestry is woven, binding the Witherell family to a web of secrets that include forbidden love and faithful friendships alongside dangerous obsessions, mental instability, and even murder.
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