The Indigo Girl is historical fiction based on real life agriculturist, Eliza Lucas, who figured out how to grow and extract dye from indigo plants on her plantation in South Carolina, which eventually brought great wealth to the territory. It’s an intriguing story and an interesting read.
The story begins in 1739, on a small plantation in South Carolina. Eliza’s family recently moved there from Antigua, but her father soon returns to Antigua for military duty, leaving 16-year-old Eliza in charge of their home plantation and two others they own. It was unheard of at the time to leave a woman in charge of anything, especially one as young as Eliza, and she faced plenty of sexism as she tried to run the three properties.
As Eliza digs into things, she discovers that her father has mortgaged two of the properties to pay for his military commission (thank goodness you no longer have to be rich to be an officer!). This has left the family finances in a precarious position, which only gets worse with time.
Eliza decides that indigo is the solution to the family’s financial woes. At the time, France cornered the market on producing indigo dye – they grew the plants in some of their colonies and extracting the dye was a complicated process. All of this made indigo very lucrative.
Eliza and some of her capable slaves embark on a multi-year effort to grow indigo. If they succeed, they’ll be the first to grow indigo in the New World. The experiment has plenty of drama, some suspense, treachery, hurricanes, and even forbidden love. And it plays out with background themes of gender roles and the inhumanity of slavery.
I liked The Indigo Girl. It took a little while to get going but once it did it was an enlightening and entertaining read. It’s always interesting to hear why authors are motivated to write about particular topics. In this case, Natasha Boyd heard about mostly forgotten Eliza Lucas, kept thinking about her, and felt compelled to write her story. It reminded me of Lisa Wingate’s motivation for writing The Book of Lost Friends. I think Natasha Boyd wrote a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman.
Thanks for the recommendation, Jane and Tracy!