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Book Review: "Raptors in the Ricelands" Has an Aquatic Quality

By Bill Oberst Jr., American actor of stage, film, and television



There’s an aquatic quality to Ron Daise’s Raptors in The Ricelands; a sensation that one is seeing the world Daise incarnates from beneath the water, perhaps from beneath the six inches of water he tells us covered Lowcountry rice in the “stretch flow.”  The raptors of the title soar overhead, but their shapes – their real identities - aren’t easy to make out from down underneath. The water distorts, makes things indistinct, makes things shimmer, now seeming one way, now another; now the raptor bears this face, now that one. This is, the reader senses, as Daise intended. The stretch flow, he tells us, “allowed the growing rice plants to stretch for the sunlight.” It also killed the weeds. For readers who suspect that the truth of racial and cultural history in the American South in general (and the South Carolina Lowcountry in particular) has been long in need of some serious weed-killing, the waters of Raptors in The Ricelands will, at the last, be a cleansing, healing flow. For those who prefer a past pleasantly packaged; a history free of complicity, it will be a troubling read. This is as it should be, as it always must be with any important book.




Daise’s story stretches way back, from before we can remember, and reminds us why we should. “When we’re connected,” says one of his characters, “we know each other, and when we know our connections, we can best help each other.” But the kind of connections Daise has in mind may cut clean to the bone. There’s sympathy here, but no sanitization, and although he is as eloquent, engaging and entertaining a writer and scholar of his subject as any now living, Daise resists both comfortable sentimentality and distancing cynicism in his generation-spanning tale of Gullah Geechee-land love and death. Raptors in theThe Ricelands is seductive but it is not romantic. And for just that reason, it is hard to dismiss. And hard to forget.


The people of Daise’s imagination, white and Black, past and present, are heartbreakingly human – we feel for them all - but when there’s wickedness it isn’t sugarcoated. Daise won’t preach, but neither will he placate. The history threaded by birth into the lives of his characters is red and raw (the mythologies spun by post-Civil War Southern intellectuals in support of restored white dominance come into particularly sharp focus.) The weed seeds are right here beneath the tidal flow. So are we.




Yet, the beauty of Raptors in The Ricelands is its stubborn insistence, despite it all, of a benediction after the flood; the reader leaves Daise’s world with a sense that there is redemption for those willing to accept the water and hold their breath awhile.

Raptors in The Ricelands is worth a slow, careful read. All is not revealed in a rush. Growth takes time. To reach its closing pages is to feel, as Daise writes, “a memory, like dust and ashes, flying over the grave that held it down.” It is also to remember what we never should have allowed ourselves to forget.


Highly recommended.




Published by Belle Isle Books, "Raptors in the Ricelands" will be released on April 30,2024. Preorders are available at www.amazon.com, www.bn.com, and belleislebooks.com.


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