Book #11 – Of One Blood

Pauline Hopkins, 1902-03

Content warning: violence, homicide, suicide, slavery, incest

My eleventh book in the 2022 challenge is Of One Blood by Pauline Hopkins. The book satisfies Category 6, a novel written by a woman published before 1940.

The book

Reuel Briggs is a promising Harvard medical student. Unfortunately, he lacks both money and friends. Not helping matters is his decision to hide that he is mixed race, since he is light-skinned enough to pass as white. Unfortunately, this would have been necessary at that time, as the first Black medical student to graduate from Harvard only did so in 1951. All these things weigh on Reuel, leaving him in a somber mood much of the time.

One evening a colleague of Reuel’s, Aubrey Livingston, offers to cheer him up by bringing him to a performance by a group of Black singers. Reuel is immediately attracted to one of the singers, Dianthe Lusk, and recognizes Dianthe’s face from a vision he’d had earlier that day.

The following day Dianthe is critically injured in a train accident and is presumed dead at the hospital where Reuel works. Aubrey convinces the senior doctors to let Reuel attempt to treat Dianthe. Both Aubrey and Reuel believe in spiritual visions and healing. Reuel has even performed experiments where he claims he has been able to revive seemingly dead animals. Figuring they have nothing to lose, the senior doctors allow Reuel to try his methods, which revive Dianthe, to everyone’s surprise.

Although Dianthe regains consciousness, she is weak and does not remember her identity or her life before the accident. As Reuel helps with Dianthe’s recovery, the two begin to fall in love. But Reuel knows that he can’t afford to support a spouse, and he has been unable to land the sort of lucrative job that his skills would normally warrant.

Aubrey tells Reuel about a forthcoming treasure hunting expedition in Africa and that they need someone with medical skills. If successful, this expedition could take care of Reuel’s financial concerns for a long time. Aubrey even offers to continue helping Dianthe with her recovery while Reuel is away.

But Aubrey is not who he seems, and Reuel’s expedition party finds a whole lot more than they bargained for in Africa. Reuel also develops a new appreciation for his African heritage, which makes him reevaluate his life in America.

What I liked

The previous section might sound like the setup for one wild ride, and is it ever! Whatever flaws this book might have, it’s definitely not boring. There’s intrigue at practically every turn.

I also liked that the novel offers a perspective on African history that most white people don’t see too often. Sure, we learn about ancient Egypt in school, but at least in my education we didn’t learn about how diverse that civilization was, much less what was going on in neighboring areas. I enjoyed learning a bit more about the surrounding civilizations that influenced ancient Egypt.

What I didn’t like

This was definitely a plot-driven book, and while it was an interesting plot, the characters felt more like plot devices than actual people. There were also some confusing elements about the relationships between some characters. For instance, when we learn that certain characters are related, I wondered:

  1. how didn’t the characters already know this, and
  2. why they behaved the way they did even in light of this information.

Without dropping spoilers, the behavior didn’t seem to reflect how people in those situations would behave.

Overall verdict

The edition of this book that I checked out from the library described this book as horror, but I think it’s closer to sci-fi. I liked the premise and the underrepresented historical perspective. But if you’re looking for deep character dives, this might not be for you.

What’s next?

The next book is The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans. This satisfies Category 15, a short story collection. I also have an exciting reading project for this year that I will announce soon.

How important is it for you to incorporate different perspectives into your reading? Leave your thoughts in the comments!





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