Peacock (A Broom of One’s Own, 2008) offers a tragic love story set in 19th-century America.
Imprisoned and condemned former slave Persimmon “Persy” Wilson tells his story in his own words in this historical novel. It begins in 1875 long after Persy has been separated from his family and purchased by landowner Joseph Wilson to work on a Louisiana sugar cane plantation. On the journey there, Persy meets the love of his life: the fair-skinned Chloe. She’s destined for work as a house slave and to care for Wilson’s sickly wife. Before long, Master Wilson repeatedly rapes her. Persy and Chloe meet in secret, dreaming of the day they’ll be able to escape the plantation. The Civil War and the approach of Union troops leads Master Wilson to move his household across the river and into Texas. Wilson shoots Persy and leaves him for dead, but Persy manages to survive. Persy quickly glosses over his time in the Union Army and picks up his narrative as he ventures into Texas on a desperate search for Chloe. He’s captured by a tribe of Comanche Indians, whom he eventually joins. Persy’s story is moving and eloquent, and he tells it in a simple but literary style. His life is filled with strife, and although readers know from the very first sentence what this man’s fate will be (“I have been to hangings before, but never my own”), they’ll still root for him and the woman he loves. The author’s descriptions of day-to-day life in the different places Persy resides are full of rich, well-researched details (“Salt licks and bee caves….Canyons and cap rock and limestone ridges”) that bring the story to life. The novel covers a span of several years; some of them take up 50 or more pages, and others merit no more than a few. However, this device allows the story to move quickly along, and it makes sense that Persy, writing the story from his prison cell as he awaits execution, might skip over some less-important parts.
A beautiful, heartbreaking tale of slavery that features a relatable cast of characters.