Chronicle: The novel that sheds light on the tobacco-rich history of the Triangle

“Southern Discomfort” was the phrase author Adele Myers used to describe the subject of her recently launched novel, “The Tobacco Wives,” during a book signing and discussion at Flyleaf Books. two weeks ago.

I sat in the audience because Myers is a UNC alumnus and my mom’s former roommate at Granville Towers. Other attendees included a few of the author’s friends from high school, college, and adulthood. Myers read us an excerpt from the book, answered our many questions, and recounted his early family years in Winston-Salem, which became the inspiration for the novel.

tobacco wives joins the steady stream of historical fiction novels written by authors like Fiona Davis, Taylor Jenkins Reid and Lisa Wingate. Myers joins that list with her work, a tale about “the hidden history of women’s activism in the post-war era,” set against the backdrop of the tobacco industry and its effect on a town in Carolina. North.

The story, set in 1946, follows 15-year-old Maddie Sykes as she embarks on an unexpected journey to the fictional town of Bright Leaf, becoming the leading seamstress to the town’s wealthiest and glitziest women – the wives of local tobacco executives. .

As she’s ear to ear in dresses, social events, and adjusting to the demands of her new clientele, she uncovers some disturbing news about the health effects of tobacco that Bright Leaf had been built on. Maddie begins to discover what’s most important to her and what to do when the truth threatens to upend a town.

I read most of the book in one sitting. The novel introduced me to Bright Leaf and its dynamic cast of characters – eccentric neighbors, two-faced women, critical young girls, eager factory workers – all while building to an outrageous climax.

I won’t spoil anything, but while reading I thought about the fact that I live in a county that has historically been heavily influenced by tobacco. It wasn’t until I started my research, however, that I discovered just how immersed we truly are in the traces left behind.

From the American Tobacco Campus in Durham to the famous “Tobacco Road” that symbolizes college basketball’s greatest rivalry, Orange County itself was once “revealed for its agricultural prowess, with corn, wheat , soybeans and, most importantly, tobacco dotting the landscape for miles,” according to UNC’s Tobacco Trail History website.

Just 18 miles away in Durham is the American Tobacco Campus, now a foodservice and retail center that was once considered the nation’s largest tobacco factory and maker of Bull Durham Tobacco . Now you can enjoy a “T-Road Sloppy Joe” from the Tobacco Road Sports Cafe Durham on campus, eating in the shade of the iconic water tower, emblazoned with the bright red Lucky Strike Cigarettes logo.

Even our beloved UNC basketball was not shaped and impacted by tobacco. Although Tobacco Road can be used to describe the Durham-Chapel Hill area as a whole, it is also nationally recognized as “a basketball oasis – the only place in the South where the sport of hardwood reigns supreme,” Tar Heel Times said in an article. .

I had never really noticed the tobacco industry’s deep roots in the Triangle, but now I can almost always see the mustachioed tobacco executives with their well-dressed southern wives strolling through town and row upon row of tobacco crops lining the rural roads between Durham and Chapel Hill.

As for “The Tobacco Wives”, I would recommend it to anyone, but especially someone from North Carolina. Learning about the history of the state I live in through vivid imagery and compelling history made this one of my first great reads of the year.

@dthopinion

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