By Katrina Young | Out on the Page
“The Cherokee Rose” is the enlightening debut novel from historian Tiya Miles. This work of fiction brings together an unlikely trio of women to tell a story of the little known history of Native American slaveholders.
Through the course of the novel, the women discover history about their ancestors while also coming to terms with things within themselves that they were reluctant to acknowledge.
Jinx is a present-day Cherokee-Creek historian and writer from Oklahoma. She is proud of her heritage and has devoted her life to continuing the work of her beloved aunt through her research and record-keeping of tribal history. Jinx’s interest is sparked after she writes an article criticizing the life decisions of a young Native American-Black girl, Mary Ann Battis, who remained in the South instead of joining her Creek family in Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears.
Jinx is confronted about her portrayal of the young girl and forced to acknowledge her own racism as well as her aunt’s. She then travels to the Cherokee Rose Plantation in Georgia to find out what really happened to Mary Ann Battis and learns more than she anticipated.
Ruth is a biracial magazine writer living in the Midwest who sets off on a writing assignment based on the Cherokee Rose Plantation. Ruth has family history in Georgia and spent time in the area during her childhood. She is apprehensive about revisiting that part of her life and she is even more unnerved when she comes face-to-face with a childhood acquaintance, Cheyenne, who has just purchased the plantation. Immediately this seemingly simple writing assignment turns out to be more than Ruth bargained for. During her stay at the Cherokee Rose Ruth encounters the ghost of Mary Ann Battis, struggles to accept the truth of her own mother’s murder, and starts a romance with Jinx.
Cheyenne, an African-American Atlanta socialite, leaves behind the life that she has built in Atlanta in search for answers to where her roots lead. To the surprise of those who know her as the ultimate city girl, she purchases the Cherokee Plantation and embarks on an adventure to live a simpler and more rustic life on the plantation, which she plans to turn into a posh bed and breakfast. Cheyenne’s fascination with the plantation stems from her belief that her family was Cherokee, which in her mind gave her bragging rights that non-Native American black people did not have. Her world is turned upside down when she discovers the truth about her heritage.
The women discover the centuries old journal of the plantations former missionary. The stories in the journal give accounts of life on the Cherokee Rose Plantation in the early 1800s. By reading the journal, the women honor the lives of the women who came before them and start healing processes for themselves.
Jinx, Ruth, Cheyenne and all of the women of the Cherokee Rose were once worlds apart but in the end, established a kinship that will last for centuries to come.
Tiya Miles did an excellent job in ensuring that “The Cherokee Rose” was soundly researched. The historical aspect brings life to the characters without Miles having to over embellish the scenes and characters and allowing for more substance to be packed into this work.
This was the perfect book for me to end the year with. Not only did I enjoy the story, it also allowed me to reevaluate my discernment of my own heritage and reevaluate the kind of legacy I want to leave behind.
—Katrina Young is a board member of the Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation and a lover of LGBT literature. Connect with her on Twitter @ktrnyoung.