Book Review: “The Indigo Girl”

bookPublication date:  October 2017

Review, short version:  Three roses out of four.

Long version:

We are inundated with endless recountings of history, but there’s a lamentable lack of herstory.

So I was delighted to read Natasha Boyd’s The Indigo Girl – a fictionalized herstory – about a mostly forgotten woman who made her mark with a mostly useless plant.

The woman was Eliza Lucas and the plant was indigofera tinctoria.

Who?  What?

The Indigo Girl answers both.

Eliza (1722-1793) was 16 when the story begins on her family’s plantation in the colony

farm girl-06 cropped
Life on an 18th-century plantation was far from glamorous.

of South Carolina.  She was smart, educated, and loved botany, in an era when a woman interested in science was regarded with suspicion, if not scorn.  She was determined to be her own person, and rejected suitors suggested by her father, at a time when a female’s only role in life was marriage.  When her father sailed off to the Caribbean island of Antigua to pursue his military/political career, he left the running of the plantation – and two others – in Eliza’s young but very capable hands.

Unheard of.

Determined to save the plantations and secure her family’s future, Eliza begins experimenting with indigofera tinctoria, or indigo, a plant that, after an extremely risky and labor-intensive process, produces a deep, rich and very rare blue dye – a dye greatly desired by the wealthy for their clothing.  Clothing then, as today, was a status symbol, and indigo blue was in high demand by European elites.

Can Eliza’s efforts turn this indigofera tinctoria… Indigofera_tinctoria with flowers
Into this expensive indigo dye… indigo dye
Which will be used for aristocrats’ clothes, like this lady’s costly hunting outfit, made of indigo-dyed satin? 18th century hunter outfit, indigo-dyed satin

Eliza tries and fails, and tries and fails, and you can’t help but root for her.  She was a young, single female, the only one in the American colonies trying to grow indigo as a cash crop.  “Ridiculous!” most men decreed.  Besides, rice was the thing in South Carolina, so never mind indigo, something the French had already mastered.

750px-Flag_of_South_Carolina.svgNever mind doing anything different – if you’re a female.

Will Eliza make a go of indigo?  As author Boyd recounts in her Afterward, one has only to look at South Carolina’s state flag and its indigo blue field for the answer.

Reading The Indigo Girl sparked my curiosity – always a sign of a good book for me.  I discovered more information online about Eliza’s story, so perhaps she isn’t mostly forgotten after all.  Some of the information is conflicting – it’s the Internet, so no surprise there – but all the sources agree that Eliza was an exceptional woman who did extraordinary things.

The Indigo Girl is herstory – and it’s a great read.

History is herstory, too. Cropped

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