Yellow Crocus: A Compelling Read and Prime Example of Show, Don’t Tell

by Ethel Lee-Miller

I was only going to read for a “little while.” Yellow Crocus came to me from my friend’s richly overstocked bookshelves. Taking a break in my office I moved to my reading chair. Twice before I had looked at the book and put it back. But yesterday was different. I read the first sentence. I read the second…
I’ve never had a biological child. I have no real life experience with birth, labor, nursing. But I know what it is to love a child who is not “yours.” I know the fierce physical pressure when you know you would fight anyone who threatened that child. So reading the rich, vivid, sensory description of a Mattie who mothered more than one child and reading how she “curled around the warm shape of her son” made me sigh.
I pulled a hassock in front of the chair, put up my feet, and settled in.
One day later I finished Yellow Crocus. It wasn’t just the mother/child relationship that had me reading late into the night and then the next morning until my eyes started burning. I kept turning pages to read more of the historical significance of the pre-Civil War era; to admire the tenacity of the main characters, Mattie, the wet nurse slave who is taken away from her baby to be a proxy mother to Lisbeth, the daughter of a white plantation owner; to cry over the cruelty of humans in justifying inhumane acts; to be reassured throughout the book that the heart is truly an expandable organ.
Reading like a writer, I am inspired to “show” more in my own writing as Ms. Ibrahim seems to do with ease. The main character Mattie shows her love for her son each day as she lifts her hand to give a small hello wave, even though he cannot see her; she tickles under a baby’s chin.
Lisbeth is believably bored as a little girl, testing how far she can go with wiggling a table leg with her foot before calamity. She is happy in her “private bubble” with a friend. She grows more aware of the slave/owner person/not-person attitude in her home and I kept cheering her on as she struggled to find her voice.
So much more. Get the book. Let me know what you think.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. A Tucson-based writer, she was one of the Write Group pioneers when there were far fewer than thirty meetings a week. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.

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