In this historical novel set in the antebellum South, slavers kidnap a free black girl and sell her into captivity.
Morton-Young (Nashville, Tennessee, 2000, etc.) focuses on the life of her actual great-grandmother Pleasant Lane. In 1845, slave traders abduct young Pleasant as she walks along a path in North Carolina. The story then flashes back many years to show Pleasant’s mother, Anika, as a child in Africa, her capture, and her grisly journey on a slave ship to America. Half the captives, including Anika’s brother, die en route, but she eventually winds up on a plantation in North Carolina. Years later, she gains her freedom thanks to the actions of her Northern-born mistress, Lucinda, “a breath of fresh air in a world of smoldering misery.” Per Lucinda’s will, Anika and her fellow former slaves receive land in “an overgrown, deserted settlement” that they name FreeLane. There, Anika gives birth to Pleasant and hopes to provide her with a better life. After Pleasant’s own abduction years later, her captors sell her in Tennessee, and she becomes a house slave for a plantation’s terrible mistress. At the end of the Civil War, Pleasant regains her freedom when Union soldiers arrive. Later, her daughter dies while giving birth, so she raises her grandchild—the author’s mother. This novel gives a vivid account of the brutalities, humiliations, and hardships of slavery. It captures “all [the] laws and contradictions” of the white man’s world but also, more generally, plumbs the depths of “human behavior, its quirks and audacities.” Morton-Young provides nuanced portraits of her characters, and her descriptions of plantation life are colorful and strong, from the daily abuse of slaves and how “human life was so wasted” to the occasional small pleasures that slaves could find on the sly. The prose style can be odd at times, though; it’s laced with inexplicable italics and clichés such as “his blood boiled.” Still, the story’s hard truths and all-too-human characters make it a heartfelt read.
A multigenerational tale of cruelty, deception, and abuse that offers a vivid portrayal of its people, places, and period.