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Counterfeit Jiistice COUNTERFEIT JUSTICE: THE JUDICIAL ODYSSEY OF TEXAS FREEDWOMAN AZELINE HEARNE By Dale Baum LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS 310 PAGES, $45 With the possibility of death on the horizon, what is there to lose in being honest? going for her, but her model-minority appearance is deceptive. Her father undermined her sense of security by expressing his desire to divorce Uma’s mother as soon as the girl went off to college. Of all the characters’ stories, Uma’s “one amazing thing” is perhaps most rooted in hallucination and unreality. Stoned and disoriented, she had taken off impulsively with two scruffy companions for New York, where she mistook a chemical plant fire along the highway for the aurora borealis. These stories within stories carve deep avenues through which Divakaruni explores human expertise in self-deception. Passage to India won’t solve any of these characters’ problems, as we see in the tales told by the Pritchetts, who vainly hope that visiting India will revive their jaded love. We fail to see how Uma can find succor in India, and the same goes for Cameron and Tariq. In each case, the characters can’t escape themselves. Meanwhile, who will take charge? At first Mr. Mangalam openly vies with Cameron and Tariq, but as the book goes on, the quietly assertive females come to the fore, catastrophe dislocating the normal social dynamic of male dominance. With the possibility of death on the horizon, what is there to lose in being honest? Divakaruni seems to suggest that we should treat each day as if disaster loomed. If we do, we will derive strength from our cumulative acts of honesty. Divakaruni hints at this possibility in the progressively darker nature of her characters’ tales, each storyteller gaining sustenance from what has already been revealed. This artfully designed novel explores our many interconnections without being heavy-handed or sentimental. What could such disparate characters, united only by their desire to visit India, have in common? When their superficial adult narcissism is peeled away, character is revealed to be fluid and malleable, as it is in youth. If only, One Amazing Thing seems to hope, it didn’t take disaster to compel such honesty. 10 Houston writer Anis Shivani’s debut book, Anatolia and Other Stories. has just been released by Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books. BOOK REVIEW Civil Wrongs by Cynthia Hall Clements OUNTERFEIT JUSTICE’S SUBTITLE IS The Judicial Odyssey of Texas Freedwoman Azeline Hearne, and author Dale Baum, professor of his tory at Texas A&M University, makes Azeline’s journey compellingly real. His book recounts Azeline’s transformations from slave mistress to plantation owner to homeless-by-choice vagabond, defrauded of her inheritance in myriad courtroom contests. Azeline remains proud throughout, refusing to accept a deal that would have kept a roof over her head, even as she saw her property rights swindled from her. After outlining the social, economic and political climates of the pre-Reconstruction eraon national, state and deep East Texas stagesBaum introduces Azeline as a “twenty-eight-year-old, light-skinned female.” She, Jones Hearne, moved with her “master”Dock’s father, clan and its slaves from Louisiana to swampy, snakefilled Robertson County, Texas, in 1853. Sam was the family renegade, cohabiting and procreating with Azeline in a quasi-matrimonial relationshipa precursor to common law marriageto the consternation of his white relatives. His wealth shielded him from overt ostracism while he lived, but in death he was barred from the family cemetery. Azeline was Sam’s chosen until his death in 1866, after the Civil War. Sam’s will provided a post-mortem jab at the extended Hearne family, and one last opportunity to demonstrate his affection for Azeline. Sam’s friend and deathbed physician, in defiance of white racist society, probated Sam’s will, in which he confirmed paternity and bequeathed his estate to 20-year-old Dockhis mixed-blood son with Azelinewith the provision that Dock provide for his mother until her death. Sam’s physician refused to serve as Dock’s legal guardian, as Sam’s will requested, and that deference to propriety opened the door to legal challenges from Hearne’s white family. Within days of Sam’s death, his brother and brother-in-law suggested that the will filed by Sam’s physician was fraudulent and requested the court appoint them administrators of Sam’s estate. That was the first of numerous gambits aimed at keeping Sam’s property out of Dock’s and Azeline’s hands. Dock died just two years after Sam, leaving Azeline to navigate the path from slave to freedwoman alone. For almost 16 years, befuddled at times, brilliant at others, she defended her property. In her last court case, a decrepit Azeline sued her own attorney, Harvey Prendergrast, for malpractice. Disregarding the advice of local African-American leaders, she rejected Prendergrast’s offer to settle the suit for a consideration of $10 a month and Prendergrast’s vague promise to build a “little house” on “the old Sam Hearne place” in which she could live out her life. Instead, she chose a new attorney, William H. Hamman, her former legal nemesis turned ardent advocate and, eventually, ally. The accomplished and venerable Hamman, a white man, sued Prendergrast on Azeline’s behalf. Baum notes that Hamman’s 12-page petition was “both complex and surprising.” It was also novel. It alleged a cause of action non-existent in Texas case law at the time: attorney malpractice. Hamman dragged Prendergrast through nearly three years of discovery. During that time, Hamman cared for Azeline, hiring a physician to treat her, paying for her medicine, and arranging various domestic jobs for her. He befriended her. A judge dismissed Azeline’s claims because she waited too late to file them. The statute of limitations had expired. An appeal to the Texas Supreme Court proved fruitless because Azeline had not filed a READ MORE about freed slaves 1 in Texas at w w.tx1o.cornitpw MAY 14, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25 B