Henry Townsend, a black farmer, bootmaker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusual mentor - William Robbins, perhaps the most powerful man in antebellum Virginia's Manchester County. Under Robbins's tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation - as well as of his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend estate, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave "speculators" sell free black people into slavery, and rumors of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.
The unusual main characters in this debut novel are a family of freed black slaves who hold slaves themselves. As the novel tells the stories of former slave Henry Townsend, his wife Caldonia, a man who hunts runaways for a living, and the various slaves on Henry's Virginia farm, a picture emerges of pre-Civil War America and the complexities of race, responsibility, and the institution of slavery. As the author stated in a Publishers Weekly interview: "I was trying to find out how these people survived in these horrifying conditions....I want to write about the things that helped us to survive: the love, grace, intelligence and strength of us as a people."
- Fiction + Literature Genres, Fiction + Literature Themes
- Society + Social Issues, Settings, General, Politics
- August 1, 2003
- August 1, 2003
- Edward P. Jones