Tag Archives: slavery

To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker by Sydney Nathans

What was it like for a mother to flee slavery, leaving her children behind? To Free a Family tells the remarkable story of Mary Walker, who in August 1848 fled her owner for refuge in the North and spent the next seventeen years trying to recover her family. Her freedom, like that of thousands who escaped from bondage, came at a great price–remorse at parting without a word, fear for her family’s fate.

This story is anchored in two extraordinary collections of letters and diaries, that of her former North Carolina slaveholders and that of the northern family — Susan and Peter Lesley — who protected and employed her. Sydney Nathans’ sensitive and penetrating narrative reveals Mary Walker’s remarkable persistence as well as the sustained collaboration of black and white abolitionists who assisted her. Mary Walker and the Lesleys ventured half a dozen attempts at liberation, from ransom to ruse to rescue, until the end of the Civil War reunited Mary Walker with her son and daughter.

Unlike her more famous counterparts — Harriet Tubman, Harriet Jacobs, and Sojourner Truth — who wrote their own narratives and whose public defiance made them heroines, Mary Walker’s efforts were protracted, wrenching, and private. Her odyssey was more representative of women refugees from bondage who labored secretly and behind the scenes to reclaim their families from the South. In recreating Mary Walker’s journey, To Free a Family gives voice to their hidden epic of emancipation and to an untold story of the Civil War era.

Nettie Parker’s Backyard

Ask anyone who knows Nettie Parker, and they’ll say that she’s an amazing, mystical woman…what else would you call someone who receives supernatural signs sent just to them? And being able to live longer than anyone else? That alone is pretty amazing! Nettie’s been through many hardships in her life, and she’s learned first-hand that prejudice can be a multi-headed dragon. but her courage and determination show others that differences in skin color or in physical abilities don’t matter. In fact, as Nettie and her fighter-pilot husband both get caught up in World War II, survival becomes what matters most-not just for them, but also for the eight Jewish refugee children she comes to care for. Now Nettie faces her toughest struggle yet: uncovering the mystery of her supernatural signs and the purpose of her unusually long life. Do the strange statues that suddenly appear in her backyard point to any clues? Halley, Nettie’s young friend, plays detective as she re-visits Nettie’s past, a journey that takes the reader from South Carolina to England and back again. Can Halley put all the pieces together and solve the puzzle?

Nettie Parker’s Backyard is the story of a mystical, wonderful African-American Gullah woman and the supernatural signs she receives, which guide her to care for eight Jewish child refugees in WWII London. The special bonds they form are so strong, nothing can break them: neither time nor distance, proving love is the greatest force of all in a surprise twist ending. Important themes of anti-bullying and tolerance toward all, regardless of race, religion or physical challenges are woven into this historical-fiction mystery, and contains something to which every child, ages 9-13, can relate.

Bullying has become a global problem for today’s youth, and hate-crime rates continue to skyrocket. The characters in my book have little in common: they are from various countries, cultures and religious backgrounds…yet it all works! My book inspires the reader to see that what matters is the “core” of each person, and that acceptance of others and their differences truly means enriching themselves.

Daniel: A Novel by Henning Mankell

Henning Mankell is a worldwide phenomenon: his books have been translated into forty languages with more than 35 million copies in print, and both his critical acclaim and fan base only continue to grow. His new novel Daniel is an elegiac, unexpected story that only he could have told.

In the 1870s, Hans Bengler arrives in Cape Town from Smaland, Sweden, driven by a singular desire: to discover an insect no one has seen before and name it after himself. But then he impulsively adopts a young San orphan, a boy he christens Daniel and brings with him back to Sweden — a quite different specimen than he first contemplated. Daniel is told to call Bengler “Father,” taught to knock on doors and bow, and continually struggles to understand this strange new land of mud and snow that surrounds and seemingly entraps him. At the same time, he is haunted by visions of his murdered parents calling him home to Africa. Knowing that the only way home is by sea, he decides he must learn to walk on water if he is ever to reclaim his true place in the world.

Evocative and sometimes brutal, the novel takes Daniel through a series of tragedies and betrayals that culminate in a shocking act. Mankell tells this indelible story with a ruthless elegance all his own.

Translated by Steven T. Murray

The New Press
Available November 9, 2010 in Hardcover

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner

From a master historian, the story of Lincoln’s — and the nation’s — transformation through the crucible of slavery and emancipation. In this landmark work of deep scholarship and insight, Eric Foner gives us the definitive history of Lincoln and the end of slavery in America. Foner begins with Lincoln’s youth in Indiana and Illinois and follows the trajectory of his career across an increasingly tense and shifting political terrain from Illinois to Washington, D.C. Although “naturally anti-slavery” for as long as he can remember, Lincoln scrupulously holds to the position that the Constitution protects the institution in the original slave states. But the political landscape is transformed in 1854 when the Kansas-Nebraska Act makes the expansion of slavery a national issue.

A man of considered words and deliberate actions, Lincoln navigates the dynamic politics deftly, taking measured steps, often along a path forged by abolitionists and radicals in his party. Lincoln rises to leadership in the new Republican Party by calibrating his politics to the broadest possible antislavery coalition. As president of a divided nation and commander in chief at war, displaying a similar compound of pragmatism and principle, Lincoln finally embraces what he calls the Civil War’s “fundamental and astounding” result: the immediate, uncompensated abolition of slavery and recognition of blacks as American citizens.

Foner’s Lincoln emerges as a leader, one whose greatness lies in his capacity for moral and political growth through real engagement with allies and critics alike. This powerful work will transform our understanding of the nation’s greatest president and the issue that mattered most. 16 pages black-and-white illustrations and 3 maps

W. W. Norton & Company
Available October 4, 2010 in Hardcover

Island Beneath the Sea: A Novel by Isabel Allende

Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarite — known as Tete — is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tete finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in the voodoo loas she discovers through her fellow slaves. When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it’s with powdered wigs in his baggage and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father’s plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. It will be eight years before he brings home a bride — but marriage, too, proves more difficult than he imagined. And Valmorain remains dependent on the services of his teenaged slave. Spanning four decades, Island Beneath the Sea is the moving story of the intertwined lives of Tete and Valmorain, and of one woman’s determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruelest of circumstances.

Harper
Available 05/01/10 in Hardcover

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Oneworld Publications
Available 03/01/10 in Paperback

Riverhead Hardcover
Available 03/31/09 in Hardcover

Described by the New York Times as both beautifully written and devastating, this is a startling, hard-edged dissection of slavery – a tour de force of voice and storytelling. At the heart of the novel is the extraordinary character Lilith, a spirited slave girl struggling to transcend the violence into which she is born, her story narrated in one of the boldest literary voices to grace the page. Overflowing with high drama and heartbreak, at its centre is the conspiracy of the Night Women, a clandestine council of fierce slave women plotting an island-wide revolt. Rebellions simmer, incidents of sadism and madness run rampant, and the tangled web of power relationships dramatically unravels amid dangerous secrets, unspoken jealousies, inhuman violence, and very human emotion.

Wench: A Novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

An ambitious and startling debut novel that follows the lives of four women at a resort popular among slaveholders who bring their enslaved mistresses

wench \’wench\ n. from Middle English “wenchel,” 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.

Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. The main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black, enslaved mistresses. It’s their open secret.

Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at Tawawa House. They have become friends over the years as they reunite and share developments in their own lives and on their respective plantations. They don’t bother too much with questions of freedom, though the resort is situated in free territory — but when truth-telling Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking of running away, things change. To run is to leave behind everything these women value most — friends and families still down South — and for some it also means escaping from the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal of circumstances — all while they are bearing witness to the end of an era. An engaging, page-turning, and wholly original novel, Wench explores, with an unflinching eye, the moral complexities of slavery.

The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist

The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist
by Deirdre O’Connell

Available 02/05/09

The true story of a black musical savant in the era of slavery. Born into slavery in Georgia, Tom Wiggins died an international celebrity in New York in 1908. His life was one of the most bizarre and moving episodes in American history. Born blind and autistic-and so unable to work with other slaves-Tom was left to his own devices. He was mesmerized by the music of the family’s young daughters, and by the time he was four, Tom was playing tunes on the piano. Eventually freed from slavery, Wiggins, or “Blind Tom” as he was called, toured the country and the world playing for celebrities like Mark Twain and the Queen of England and dazzling audiences everywhere. One part genius and one part novelty act, Blind Tom embodied contradictions-a star and a freak, freed from slavery but still the property of his white guardian. His life offers a window into the culture of celebrity and racism at the turn of the twentieth century. In this rollicking and heartrending book, O’Connell takes us through the life (and three separate deaths) of Blind Tom Wiggins, restoring to the modern reader this unusual yet quintessentially American life.

The Ties That Bind: A Memoir of Race, Memory and Redemption

The Ties That Bind: A Memoir of Race, Memory and Redemption
by Bertice Berry

Available 02/03/09

When novelist Bertice Berry set out to write a history of her family, she initially believed she would uncover a story of slavery and black pain, but the deeper she dug, the more surprises she found. There was heartache, yes, but also something unexpected: hope. Peeling away the layers, Berry came to learn that the history of slavery cannot be quantified in simple, black-and-white terms of “good” and “evil” but is rather a complex tapestry of roles and relations, of choices and individual responsibility.

In this poignant, reflective memoir, Berry skillfully relays the evolution of relations between the races, from slavery to Reconstruction, from the struggles of the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power 1970s, and on to the present day. In doing so, she sheds light on a picture of the past that not only liberates but also unites and evokes the need to forgive and be forgiven.

Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

Sweetsmoke  by David Fuller

Sweetsmoke
by David Fuller

Available August 2008

The year is 1862, and the Civil War rages through the South. On a Virginia tobacco plantation, another kind of battle soon begins. There, Cassius Howard, a skilled carpenter and slave, risks everything—punishment, sale to a cotton plantation, even his life—to learn the truth concerning the murder of Emoline, a freed black woman, a woman who secretly taught him to read and once saved his life. It is clear that no one cares about her death in the midst of a brutal and hellish war. No one but Cassius, who braves horrific dangers to escape the plantation and avenge her loss.

As Cassius seeks answers about Emoline’s murder, he finds an unexpected friend and ally in Quashee, a new woman brought over from another plantation; and a formidable adversary in Hoke Howard, the master he has always obeyed.

With subtlety and beauty, Sweetsmoke captures the daily indignities and harrowing losses suffered by slaves, the turmoil of a country waging countless wars within its own borders, and the lives of those people fighting for identity, for salvation, and for freedom.