“Olivia, Mourning” and “The Way the World Is” by Yael Politis (The Olivia Series)

What a beautifully written but heart-breaking story! From page one, I was hooked. A boy named Mourning, orphaned as an infant, is adopted by a small-town white family. He grows up to be a sterling character, capable, hard working, and reliable. What would the town do without him? A girl named Olivia grows up in the same town, escaping the racist mindset that plagues everyone else except a lawyer who actually has Mourning’s best interests at heart, and a woman whose reputation is questionable, but whose character and integrity far surpass that of the self-righteous townfolk. When Olivia wants to stake her claim to a piece of land her uncle left behind, she proposes something like a marriage of convenience between her and Mourning. She’s white, he’s black, so marriage is out of the question, and their arrangement is strictly platonic, until Olivia finally acknowledges her attraction to a man society will never allow her to marry. At times she must pretend to boss him around like a servant because the alternative is persecution of a worse sort. The novel takes a dark turn, which can hardly be summarized with plot spoilers. The ending is a cliff hanger, sure to send readers racing for Book Two.

The prose is gorgeous, the historical setting is vividly reproduced with painstaking detail, and the characters are so real, it’s hard to believe they really are fictional. The fate of Olivia and Mourning, however, fulfills the double meaning of the title. Emotionally, it’s a brutal read. However, it’s all just the way the world is. And so the sequel (which I’ve read) is also aptly titled. I strongly recommend these novels for their social and historical value, but also for the sheer beauty of the story. Just be prepared to feel angry, horrified and heartbroken.

“Olivia, Mourning” and its sequel, The Way the World Is, comprise a beautifully written, haunting and unforgettable story of Olivia and the man she loves but cannot have because their world isn’t ready for mixed marriage. The tender and lovely relationship that builds in Book One is torn asunder due to the interventions of other people, who commit unthinkable evil while espousing obedience to the Bible, though it’s painfully obvious to everyone but themselves that they got religion all backward.

The sequel is a little slow to get going, but once it does, Olivia accomplishes great things, from acquiring a Bed and Breakfast to reuniting an emancipated slave with his wife, to risking her own life to help more slaves to freedom. The story is filled with danger and suspense, the horrors of slavery, the courage of those who sacrificed so much to end slavery at last.

And of course the story does show us what’s become of Mourning, the man Olivia loved and lost. Again, to say more risks too many spoilers, but the ending is at once heartbreaking and yet reassuring and uplifting. I wanted to fling the book against the wall, and yet the title is there to remind us: life is what it is. Yael Politis delivers with unsparing honesty a story that is believable and impossible to forget.


About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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