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Abolitionism; farmer-turned-fugitive; shifting social and political sands - this companion to the author’s award-winning The Purchase is an epically-scaled feat of historical fiction. Virginia, 1855, and farmer John Dickinson’s fate and fortunes are on the downturn as the country shifts towards Civil War. John’s irresponsible brother has lost the family wealth, and now a Canadian outsider, “birdwatching abolitionist” Doctor Ross, is about to seal the dysfunctional family’s future. Ross, whose “desire to free slaves was about justice rather than virtue; he hated the slaver more than he loved the slave,” tells the farm’s slaves of “the glories of a country that is owned by England, where no fugitive law grabs you and sends you back down to bondage.” Ross also promises to “provide a compass and a knife and a map” and safety to those willing to take flight. Then, faced with cripplingly mounting debts and agitated slaves, and feeling “bedeviled by a sense of oncoming doom”, John and family are compelled to flee to the West aboard a wagon, enduring grave perils and personal demons as they journey in search of a new existence. Stylistically bold (no speech marks), meticulously detailed, and driven by a rich cast of characters (I particularly liked the folkloric story of young Martin and his bear companion), this novel calls for careful contemplation, and will reward readers who enjoy thoughtful historical epics.
It's 1855, and the Dickinson farm, in the bottom corner of Virginia, is already in debt when a Northern abolitionist arrives and creates havoc among the slaves. Determined to find his mother and daughter, who are already free in Canada, Bry is the first slave to flee, and his escape inspires a dozen others. Soon, the farm, owned by one brother and managed by another, is forfeited to the bank.One of the brothers, who is also a circuit-riding preacher, gathers his flock into a wagon train to find a new life in the west. But John Dickinson has a dangerous secret that compels him to abandon the group at the last minute, and his wife, two daughters, and thirteen-year-old son, Martin, now face life on the trail and an unknown future alone. After a fateful encounter along the way, Martin and Bry will hatch a plot to get Bry safely to Canada, but each member of the family will be changed, tormented, excited, and exposed by the journey. Linda Spalding brings an astonishing empathy to the telling of the fate of each of the travelers and to their shifting inner livescompoundedof grief, fear, anger, and hope. Rich in character and incident, A Reckoning brilliantly-creates an America that was: the undefiled beauty of its lands and the grand mix of settlers and Native Americans; blacks and whites; riverboat captains, small businessmen, and people leaving one life behind for another they can only just begin to see. It moves with irresistible force toward an ending at once cataclysmic, inevitable, and profound.
As Jesse Quill watches her husband become obsessed with Maya, a sensuous Hawaiian aged 14, it soon becomes clear that she battles not merely with infidelity, but age-old beliefs of Hawaii. Through Jesse, the author creates a tale of the clash of cultures and people, shaped by their ancestral past.