This is a beautifully written historical novel. If you look closely at this picture, you can see the red tabs that I stuck to pages when I found a particularly well-wrought sentence. There were dozens.
The setting is 1860s Brooklyn. I have to admit, part of the charm of the book was that this was a time and place that was fresh and unknown to me.
The line that opens the first section is this: "Se pa tout blesi ki geri. Not all wounds heal. 1860."
The protagonist is Libertie Sampson, a young Black woman and the daughter of a doctor who can pass for white. Her mother intends that Libertie will join her medical practice, that they will be Dr. Sampson and daughter, but Libertie's interests lean elsewhere. The book begins in 1860, and we see through Libertie's eyes (told in first person POV) the world before the Civil War, during it, and afterwards, when Libertie moves to Haiti and experiences life there.
Despite being set during a war, this is not a book full of Huge Events. Rather, it's a thoughtful, poignant look at a mother and a daughter, striving to find their places in a world where everything is changing. It is also a nuanced meditation on race and our responsibilities toward others. I'm tempted to call it a coming-of-age story, and I would recommend it not only to adults but to YA readers, who I think will identify with Libertie's longings and hopes, her fears of disappointing her mother, and her desperate break with her early life that causes her to feel regret and brings about a growing awareness of herself.
I'm always entranced by authors who develop their secondary characters well. My favorite SCs in this novel are Experience and Louisa, two Black women singers, who are inspired by the Fisk Jubilee singers, all emancipated slaves, who formed an a cappella group that toured America and Europe to earn money to support Fisk University. The last section of the book, set in Haiti, was hard for me to read, as Libertie suffers emotional abuse at the hands of her husband Emmanuel's family. But her letter to her husband, at the end, is a satisfying triumph.