A More Perfect Union

by Tammye Huf

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LoveReading Expert Review of A More Perfect Union

Rich with romance and rawly affecting slave history, this exceptional debut tells an unforgettable tale of love between a black slave and an Irish immigrant in pre-Civil War Virginia.

Based on her great-great grandparents’ experiences, Tammye Huf’s A More Perfect Union is a heart-rending, soul-stirring story of the love between a black slave and an Irish immigrant. A lucid, bold tale of the despicable brutality of slavery, personal conflicts, and a bond that will not be broken.

Henry O’Toole fled Ireland in 1848 to escape the famine. On arriving in New York, “America stabs me with homesickness” and he can’t find a job - “Every day it’s the same. No Irish”. Compelled to flee the city, he changes his surname to the English-sounding ‘Taylor’ and heads to Virginia.

House slave Sarah is separated from her Momma and brother when she’s sold as a “quick-cleaning-slave-who-don’t-get-sick”. She and Henry meet when he comes seeking work as a blacksmith at the plantation she’s been sold to. Here Henry is moved by the sound of slaves singing at night, while Sarah paces her hoe in the kitchen garden to “the rhythmic strike of the blacksmith’s hammer”. The stirring attraction between them is palpable, but theirs is a forbidden relationship - inter-racial marriage is illegal, and viewed as an abomination. What’s more, she’s owned by another man.

The couple are in an excruciating situation, their complex personal conflicts evoked with shattering clarity. Sarah has to reconcile loving a man whose white skin represents her oppression, and she’s also ostracised by fellow slaves. Then there’s the searing exchange when Sarah sees Henry making neck rings and shackles. When he protests that he has no choice, that he needs to earn money, that he knows what it is to be shackled by poverty, Sarah’s response captures the despicable inhumanity of enslavement: “’I know you been through a hard, hungry life,’ she says. ‘I want you to understand that slave suffering is a different thing. When somebody owns you, there ain’t nothing they can’t do to you.’” 

Both their voices are conjured with brilliant authenticity, and their story builds to an agonisingly edgy crescendo as the risks they take are as immense as their love. I cannot recommend this enough.

Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

Joanne Owen

A More Perfect Union Synopsis

A breathtaking, romantic debut novel by Tammye Huf. Based on the true story of the author’s great-great grand-parents, A More Perfect Union is an epic love story between an Irish immigrant and a black slave, set in the pre-Civil War Southern state of Virginia in 1849 when inter-racial marriage was illegal.

When Henry O’Toole escapes the Irish famine and sails to America, he doesn’t expect the anti-Irish prejudices that await him. Determined never to starve again, he changes his name to Henry Taylor to secure a job and safeguard his future. Traveling south to Virginia, he meets Sarah, a slave woman torn from her family and sold to another plantation. There she must navigate the power system of the white masters, as well as the hierarchy of her fellow slaves.

Even though Henry’s white skin represents the oppression Sarah suffers under, and even though having Sarah at his side would force Henry to abandon his hopes of prosperity, their attraction is undeniable and they fall in love. But in 1849 on a Virginian plantation, inter-racial marriage is not only illegal but considered to be an ungodly abomination. No matter how much they want to be together, Sarah is trapped on Jubilee Plantation, owned by another man.

This is a love story of epic proportions—a forbidden relationship that has been forged in secrecy, and faces betrayal and jeopardy at every turn.

What To Read After A More Perfect Union

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
Kinder Than Solitude
Mrs Death Misses Death

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781912408979
Publication date: 30/06/2021
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781912408894
Publication date: 15/10/2020
Format: Hardback

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