Wilson’s (The Kidnapped, 2018, etc.) new volume of historical fiction weaves together 24 short stories to create a remarkable, multihued portrait of America.
These are the stories of slavery and the brave black, white, Native American, and multiracial men and women who fought against it. The narrative begins in 1795. Esi and Kofi, two Fante from West Africa, were kidnapped and sent to Virginia to be sold. Esi was Fante royalty; Kofi was known for his bravery in confronting a lion. They were 12 years old. Purchased by a farmer from Daufuskie Island, they remained on his plantation until his death in 1801. Esi and Kofi (who assumed the English name Kenneth) married at 16 and were sold to Nathan Prescott of Culpeper, Virginia, to work on his “Fruits of the Spirit” plantation. They had many children, some of whom were forcibly fathered by Prescott. Kenneth earned small amounts of money on the side as a cobbler and was determined to buy his children’s freedom. Then, help appeared from another source. Quaker abolitionists established an underground railroad and offered sanctuary to those who made their way into free territory. In 1827, Kenneth’s daughter Sarah and two of her brothers were rescued by an “African-Shawnee” named Caesar and brought to live with a Quaker family in Ohio. The stories, narrated in the strong and textured voice of Sarah, span the first half of the 19th century. Here, she poignantly describes her father: “I know that Daddy was always a double-sided man: a Fante warrior dressed in a slave’s rags; dignified while disgraced.” The stories are the product of the author’s imagination, informed by years of research and personal lineage. Wilson, himself a Quaker, identifies Sarah as a “direct ancestor.” Each stand-alone tale conveys a quick snapshot of resistance, whether through overt acts of rescue/escape or the quiet refusal to submit to degradation of the soul. The conversational prose captures the cadence and imagery of the period, including racist slurs, but without contrived dialect.
Memorable characters and unique historical details illuminate slavery’s complex legacy.