Book Review of
Fire In Beulah
Oil-boom opulence, fear, hate, and lynchings are the backdrop for this riveting novel about one of the worst incidents of violence in American history. Althea Whiteside, an oil-wildcatter’s high-strung white wife, and her enigmatic Black maid, Graceful, share a complex connection during the tense days of the Oklahoma oil rush. Their juxtaposing stories – and those of others close to them – unfold as tensions mount to a violent climax in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, during which whites burned the city’s prosperous Black neighborhood to the ground. The massacre becomes the crucible that melds and tests each of the character in this masterful exploration of the American race story and the ties that bind us irrevocably to one another.
2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riots. Over the last few years, several books have been written about the Tulsa Race Riots because it is a part of history that is often forgotten about.
Fire In Beulah though was published back in 2001 when very few people were talking about, let alone writing about, the Tulsa Race Riots. This is a historical fiction book that draws you into a time and place most people know very little about.
Rilla Askew did an amazing job of sharing the story of what Tulsa and much of Oklahoma looked like in 1921. She weaves together the story of one white family and one black family. They are so very different and yet connected in so many ways.
Fire In Beulah covers the wealth of the Oklahoma oil boom, with not only the tension of Native American, black, and white people living and working together, but also the struggle of wealthy Oklahomans and those trying to make a better life for themselves.
This book reminded me in many ways of The Kitchen House. It takes you to a time and place that you then can’t stop thinking about. In many ways, this book felt so real that it was hard to believe it was fiction. It is dark and at times making it very hard to read, but it is an important story, and one that needs to be told.
Because of the subject matter of the book, it does contain graphic details of violence, riots, and abuse.