An engrossing re-creation of the world of slavery, rich in social detail and psychological nuance.

SLAVES, MASTERS AND TRADERS

HISTORICAL FICTION

Human bondage connects the lives of people on three continents in this sprawling saga of trans-Atlantic enslavement.

Ackroyd’s historical novel examines slavery in 1800 from the perspectives of dozens of perpetrators and victims. One plotline involves wealthy Scottish financiers of the slavery trade, including Aaron Migu, a businessman who outfits the schooner The Spirit of the Clyde; Stanley Staymann, a young nobleman with fantasies of owning enslaved people in America; and guilt-stricken George McCallum, who uses profits from selling human beings to support an abolitionist writer. A second thread follows inhabitants of Banyan Village on the West African coast, including 5-year-old Abebi; her mother, Efia; and her father, Thimba, a superlative hunter and closeted gay man. Europe and Africa collide on the Louisiana plantation of “the chevalier,” an aging patriarch who prefers André, his enslaved son by a concubine, to his other son and heir, Jacques; the latter conspires with his mother to poison the chevalier and humble André. The three narrative threads come together when the Banyan villagers are kidnapped and shipped on the Spirit to New Orleans for auction just as Stanley arrives to take control of the chevalier’s plantation. Ackroyd’s panorama steeps readers in dense, colorful historical detail. There are a few anachronistic notions, though, as when an ethnomusicologist solicits “slave input on how to decorate the chapel using African motifs and crafts within a Christian framework.” The author pens gripping scenes of the horrors of the Middle Passage and the plantation’s cane fields, but her focus is also sociological, addressing Scotland’s class hierarchy as it confronts newfangled ideas about human rights; the intricacies of West African religion; and queasy contradictions of plantation society. Ackroyd’s prose sometimes feels didactic (“He now understands the word libertarianism….It means ‘rejecting institutional authority and replacing it with trust in individual judgment’ ”), but she often achieves lyricism that illuminates characters’ lives: “The hunters, knowing life is mere clothing for a spirit that never dies, give thanks to Gran Legbwa in a wild dance and song.”

An engrossing re-creation of the world of slavery, rich in social detail and psychological nuance.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-79608-662-1

Page Count: 546

Publisher: Xlibris Corp

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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