This book joins a growing number of really well researched historical fiction covering the Revolutionary period in North America. While the backbone of the book recounts the believable story of a black slave escaping from the oppressive and inhuman slavers in the southern states, the feature of this historical novel is the number of social and political hot spots that it skilfully deals with while following Sarah's life story. Those readers who have a passing knowledge of issues leading to the Civil War in 1865 will appreciate how the politics at the time influenced people supporting or using Sarah and her family. The forces of change favouring the factory labour economy of the North over the slave-based economy of the South are revealed through the actions of the main characters in this novel.
The laws passed against slavery encouraged by the abolitionists in both countries and the Wilberforce society in Canada illustrate how the fledgling country struggled to have an effect against the prejudices and greed in a closed and narrow-minded society. As Beasley reveals through the living example of his characters, discrimination defined itself along lines of colour, not slave versus free. Through Sarah's life, vicariously, Beasley reveals how policies of the nineteenth century so vainly tried to defend the rights of slaves. Without preaching, this book balances historical content and fiction and comes out on top.
Written in the currently popular style of chapter by chapter flip-flops of plot lines, this book can't help but captivate the reader's attention from start to finish. Sometimes the author allows us to follow Sarah like the proverbial fly on the wall. Sometimes we learn more about her through what her family members say or do around her. Skillfully, as if reading the diaries of Sarah and all her family members, the reader learns not just the bare, cold facts, but the emotional depth of Sarah's character as well and can identify with her pain and jubilation at life events. Again this novel rises above the fault of many historical novels in that the characters have depth and personality. The author steers clear of moralizing and judging the lives of the female characters who he spends more time with as the novel progresses. We, the readers, therefore learn a lot more about the lives and desires of the daughters of slaves than their sons.
Another thing that I like about this novel in particular is that the author has spent some time with choice of words. It has been a long time since I have read a novel with vocabulary that is stimulating.
I would recommend this novel to mature readership at the high school level or above because of the increased degree of appreciation of the story if one is acquainted with the social and economic and political issues surrounding and shaping the environment into which Sarah was born.
Reviewed by Grietje R. McBride, UE, B.Sc.