Black by Joan Vassar


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Antebellum romance between a heroic liberator and the enslaved woman he loves.

Nat Turner was led to the gallows in 1831 after incepting the largest slave revolt in American history. But in Vassar’s (Introduction to Love and Self, 2006) latest romance, Nat’s story doesn’t end there. Unbeknownst to his tormentors, he fathered a son, also named Nat, who later, as secretive liberator, is nicknamed Black. He runs a branch of the Underground Railroad that opens into safe, free northern Canada, where he communicates with John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and other major figures of emancipation. As the novel begins, Black has decided to insist on the liberation of the woman who raised him, Big Mama, his co-coordinator on the ground. She stipulates that he bring along Sunday, a child raised by Big Mama after Sunday’s mother “collapsed in the fields and died from exhaustion.” After arriving successfully in the north, Black and Sunday fall deeply in love: “she offered him her love and silence as he worked through his feelings.” But Black’s struggle only becomes more fraught when plantation owner Turner (who lusts for Big Mama) and his callow son, Will (who lusts for Sunday), plan on getting them back. Historians have long debated how inspirational and admirable Nat Turner truly was, and Vassar’s imaginings are a powerful addition to his legacy. In the smooth, eloquent history lesson, a number of abolitionist debates are well-dramatized, e.g., violence vs. patience. Vassar shows a practiced hand at keeping the narrative moving forward and the pages turning with pleasure. There’s sex, too, and it’s effectively steamy: it takes a special talent to eroticize pantaloons.

A daring romance full of adventure and striking period detail.

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6264-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: iUniverse
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2015