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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.
From the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Prize, a Walter Scott Prize Academy recommended read.
An extraordinary, epic novel with echoes of The Underground Railroad and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer.
Spring 1855 and Virginian farmer John Dickinson has a dangerous secret that will have epic consequences. His reckless brother has squandered the family’s wealth and now a Canadian abolitionist has provoked their slaves with talk of liberation. The farm is in turmoil and then one of the workers makes a run for freedom.
Escaping their financial losses, the family become fugitives of another kind. Heading west by wagon in search of a new life, they are confronted by hunger, fear and a near-fatal riverboat accident. Each member of the family is tested to the limit as they come to terms with their slave-owning past as the Civil War approaches.
Rich in character and incident, this is an extraordinary, epic and rewarding novel.
Publication date: 05/03/2019
Publisher: Muswell Press
|Publication date:||5th March 2019|