Aila’s Journal: A Tale of Southern Reconstruction

Charles M. Clemmons

Publisher: Wiltonwood Productions Pages: 307 Price: (paperback) $18.99 ISBN: 9798987634912 Reviewed: September, 2023 Author Website: Visit »

Against the backdrop of the Civil War and its aftermath, Charles M. Clemmons’ Aila’s Journal is a thought-provoking, well-crafted historical novel focusing on the late 19th century racial struggles in the South.

The story centers on the friendship between Aila MacKenzie, a white indentured servant, and Mary Jane Sanders, a black slave, both living on a North Carolina plantation. Aila and Mary Jane meet at age 13; they have both discovered the same spot where they find solace and appreciate nature’s beauty. Their friendship continues over the next 50-plus years as they face hardships, including sexual assault, Aila losing guardianship of her child, repercussions for attending mixed-race social gatherings, and more. Clemmons also weaves family secrets into the story.

Early on, war’s tensions and devastation are revealed in the concerns of both landowners and their laborers. In one instance, readers witness a returning soldier facing what’s referenced as “Soldier’s Heart,” a struggle with the mental consequences of battle that lead him to violence and self-destruction.

With the presence of the Ku Klux Klan after the war, Clemmons reveals how violence and hatred move beyond the battlefield in the form of beatings, lynchings, destructive fires, and familial loss. He skillfully presents both black and white characters with an innate will to survive. Says one: ” … life’s gonna have its surprises, some good, some bad. We need to take them head-on as best we can.”

While the subject matter is familiar, Clemmons delivers an action-filled storyline, rich in character and laced with details that draw readers into the narrative’s heart. The book’s unexpected ending will give readers pause about the discrimination and oppression so many had to endure.

While phonetically written dialogue adds to the genuine flavor of the Southern dialect, its use throughout the narrative seems a bit heavy handed and sometimes impedes the story’s flow.

That aside, this is a provocative tale exploring history, family, friendships, and the struggle for equality among all.

Also available as an ebook.

Author's Current Residence
Durham, North Carolina
Available to buy at: