Audiobook Review: In the Shadow of Alabama

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In the Shadow of Alabama was a wonderful story to accompany me on my commute to and from work each day. It’s story of redemption, reconciliation, and racism. A timely but sadly, still too current of a story, despite its taking place in the 1940s in America’s South. Lamentably, not much has changed. Reene Singer provides scathing commentary, subtle as it may seem at times, it is still a scathing look at racism and the US Army in the American South. Thank you very much to Recorded Books for sending this audiobook.

The synopsis: Rachel Fleischer has good reasons not to be at her father s deathbed. Foaling season is at hand and her horses are becoming restless and difficult. Her critical mother and grasping sister could certainly handle Marty Fleisher’s resistance better without her. But Malachi, her eighty-something horse manager more father to her than Marty has ever been convinces Rachel she will regret it if she doesn’t go. 

When a stranger at her father’s funeral delivers an odd gift and an apology, Rachel finds herself drawn into the epic story of her father’s World War II experience, and the friendships, trauma, scandal, and betrayals that would scar the rest of his life and cast a shadow across the entire family. As she struggles to make sense of his time as a Jewish sergeant in charge of a platoon of black soldiers in 1940s Alabama, she learns more than just his history. She begins to see how his hopes and disappointments mirror her own and might finally give her the means to free herself of the past and choose a life waiting in the wings.

This was a moving and multilayered story. We hear a history of racism that really hasn’t changed today and events that permanently altered two men. We also hear Rachel’s story, which involves a man she struggles to show love for and the old black ranch hand that she does consider to be more of a father to her than her own father.

Rachel reluctantly, rather unwillingly, leaves her horse ranch and returns home to be at her dying father’s bedside. She feels she’s been bullied and nagged at to go, because after all, she left and went happily on her own way while in her fairly early teens, feeling she was gladly leaving a home filled with anger, hatred and one where no love was shown or given, especially not from her father – a bitter and angry man.

While attending the funeral, a stranger approaches them offering a strange package and an apology from this woman’s father which also contains a shocking statement about Rachel’s father. Compelled to understand why this woman would say that about her father, she travels to Boston to meet Willy, the black man that served under her father during WWII, and is this woman’s father. Willy is unwell, close to 90 years of age and can no longer travel himself as he so wished he could have done. He has spent many years trying to find Marty Fleisher so that he could give him his apology.

What unfolds is an emotional and gripping story about Willy and Marty’s experiences while serving in the US Army, training in Alabama and their work providing maintenance on the planes during WWII. Both Willy and Marty had strong desires to fly those planes, but because Willy was a black man and Marty was a Jewish man, they were relegated to maintenance work only. They sadly endured healthy doses of rampant racism by the men they were serving with as well.

As Rachel listens to Willy’s story, she begins to understand how all of those tragic events changed her father and turned him into the ugly, mean and hate-filled man she’s only knew him as. Along the way, she also begins to understand her own self, and the reasons why she has been so unable to let love into her life, and she realizes how she has been turning away the man she does love dearly and doesn’t want to lose – as has been happening with the greater distances he has been putting between them.

Willy and Marty’s  story sadly continues to show such racism and hate, and to think on how profoundly current (again, that it is so sadly remaining current?!) it remains today. Willy shared this profound statement during his storytelling:

He lived in two separate countries, the United States of America for white people, the United States of America for Coloured people.” (quote may not be exact, but is very closely written as it was stated.)

I really did enjoy this moving story. Many times tears would come to my eyes when Willy was relaying his story to Rachel. I also loved the storyline between Rachel and Malachi – another very moving part to this story.

I will say however, that I can only give between 3 and 3.5 stars for Carol Monda’s narration. The changes in voice for the characters was okay, if perhaps too grating on the nerves, especially for Rachel’s mother, sister and father. Very irritating most of the time. Monda has a deep husky voice, and one that is very similar to a heavy smoker’s voice. I found that overly distracting and kind of cringe-worthy.  I would however highly recommend In the Shadow of Alabama, and would even pass along the audiobook so it could be listened to if you wished it in that format.