A richly evocative and important novel about what happens to a Virginia family that must come to terms with their slave-owning past as the Civil War approaches and an abolitionist visits their plantation, throwing it into turmoil and eventually sending the family west.
It is 1855. The thousand-acre Dickinson farm on the Virginia-Kentucky border is run by two brothers - Benjamin, who owns the land, and John, a circuit-riding Methodist preacher who manages the land and the sale of cotton and brandy. When a naturalist arrives asking questions about birds and plants, he's invited to stay - but his real mission is to distribute maps, compasses, and knives to the slaves, who then begin to escape, causing chaos on the farm and bitterness between the brothers.
We follow one half of the family as they head for the Kansas Territory, and we follow one of the runaway slaves as he travels to freedom in Canada. Both journeys are full of electrifying incident, near escapes, and the astonishing beauty of undefiled America. Throughout, the characters contend with eternal vicissitudes and the pleasures of family and friends, and sometimes loneliness, but they must all finally come to a reckoning with America's original sin: slavery.
“Spalding’s excellent fifth novel is a drama set in the late 1850’s as conflicts over slavery and abolition tear apart a Virginia plantation family . . . The family trek west is fraught with peril, hardship, disappointment, and injury, while slave catchers pursue runaways north.... Rife with historical detail.” (Publishers Weekly)
“An engrossing, deftly crafted narrative... A Virginia family suffers poverty and sorrow as slavery tears their world apart... As the characters struggle to survive, they discover that redemption is elusive and forgiveness, hard-won.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“A dark and mythopoetic novel...that stands apart for its texture, moral nuance, and the somber earthy prose.” (The Globe and Mail)