June Read of the Month: “Buried Seeds,” by Donna Meredith

Donna Meredith

Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturro

Women through the ages have had to choose between their own needs and those of their families. In her newest book, Buried Seeds (Wild Women Writers, April 2020), award-winning author Donna Meredith takes this basic conflict further by asking how much two women will risk to take strong stands on important matters, pitting themselves against their husbands and reigning cultural norms. As Meredith delves into this theme, she skillfully weaves a tale of two protagonists separated by decades yet united by an initially unknown family link. She does so with a talent and sensitivity typical of her body of work, and the result might well be her best novel yet. Thoroughly engrossing, imminently readable, and ultimately uplifting, Buried Seeds is an important contribution to a body of socially themed literature.

The book is a multi-generational, historical novel, albeit with a clever twist. Instead of the straight genealogical order many such books take, Buried Seeds presents two very different women whose connection is initially obscured. Angie Fisher, a schoolteacher in Clarksburg, West Virginia, in 2017 does not know anything about her birth family until her adoptive mother gifts her with a scrapbook that introduces the story of her great-great-grandmother, Rosella Krause. By using the scrapbook as a starting point, the novel weaves between Angie’s contemporary story and Rosella’s turn of the twentieth century story.

While Angie deals with a host of modern issues—an unemployed husband, a father with dementia, a pregnant unmarried daughter, a seriously ill friend, and a pending teachers’ strike—Rosella deals with problems facing women in 1899-1920, including reproductive, voting and married women’s rights, and the difficulties for women to gain recognition as artists. Meredith uses her research to educate readers throughout the historical segments of the book, but never pedantically. Rather, the historical facts are smooth and entertaining, woven into the fabric of the plot in a manner that enriches the story.

Angie, like many modern women, is constantly balancing her own needs against those of her family, but matters come to a head when she is asked to take a leading role in a teachers’ strike in her West Virginia home. Her recently laid-off husband opposes her involvement because he fears it will prevent him from getting a job he desperately needs. Angie also must fight her own insecurities if she is to become a leader, but she understands all too well the significance of the demands the striking teachers are making on their state legislature.

In contrast to Angie’s modern conflicts, Rosella’s earliest fight is as a child against her father over her artistic talent and drawings, which he views as wasteful and even sinful. As a teen, she must fight for her right to choose her own husband—the stodgy older farmer her father insists she marry to unite their neighboring farms, or the dashing, charming railroad man who visits town and catches her eye. Once married, she finds herself subordinated, dependant upon her not-always dependable and unfaithful husband. Soon enough, she is caught in a tragedy when he passes his venereal disease to her and her infant. Laws in place at the time prevent her from gaining knowledge of either birth control or sexually transmitted diseases, and she is denied the right to vote.

Rosella, like Angie, finds strength in organizing with like-minded people. As Angie gathers power in the union by joining forces with others, so Rosella finds courage and strength with women in the Suffragists movement. Thus, another strong theme in Buried Seeds is the power of ordinary people to organize and force societal change in peaceful ways.

Rosella is also a gifted artist—a potter. But before her art will find the recognition it deserves, she must survive the San Francisco earthquake, a serious illness, and the treachery of a friend. Angie, in order to find her own voice, must face down her husband’s objections, her exhaustive caretaker duties, and her own lack of self-confidence, but she finds strong allies in her mother and her once distant sister.

Another underlying theme in Buried Seeds relates to the fluid notion of family. Families come in many different forms—adopted children, families who take in friends, single mothers, stepfathers, and more. Buried Seeds explores these ideas in a timely tale of strong women who buck the norm and risk much in order to simply live their lives while championing social progress. Meredith is a fine writer who knows how to get to the heart of her characters and her story and she proves this again in Buried Seeds. A grand book to read and own, and a grand book to gift to the readers in your life.

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