Mordecai Mannheim presented his daughter Adelaide with a slave, Rachel, as a birthday present. The two girls bond quickly. Adelaide secretly teaches Rachel to read, a forbidden skill for slaves. Rachel fears making mistakes that would anger her masters, like looking them in the eye, but it is soon revealed to her by her friend Charlie that she would never be sold since she is actually a daughter of her owner. When Adelaide learns this shameful truth, a uniquely difficult relationship unfolds between the half sisters, one a free white woman, the other her dark-skinned slave.
Slave and Sister takes place in Savannah, Georgia and the surrounding hill country cotton plantations . Mannheim owns a large tract of land and many slaves to work the plantings and harvests, which require extreme labor, loyalty, and luck. The Mannheim family keeps their Jewish identity even living far away from the city out on the plantation. Rosa Mannheim, Adelaide’s mother, wants her daughter to find a Jewish husband. Strong-willed Adelaide eventually marries softhearted liberal Henry Kaltenbach, an earnest, hardworking planter who acquires slaves reluctantly and insists on working with them side by side.
Waldfogel draws a clear picture of the life of both slaves and masters out on the plantations. Her descriptions of city living in Savannah are colorful and detailed. Through the depth of her characters she explores the variations in human nature during the Civil War era. This is an easy, worthwhile read, appropriate for young adults as well.