Original Sins

Peg Kingman, Author
Peg Kingman, Norton, $25.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-393-06547-3
Reviewed on: 06/28/2010
Release date: 08/01/2010
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-393-07995-1
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-393-35003-6
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Though the era of American slavery is widely viewed with repugnance today, it's easy to forget the vehemence and eloquence with which slaveholding was condemned by 19th-century abolitionists, portrayed richly, but haltingly, in this second novel from Kingman (Not Yet Drown'd). In 1840 Philadelphia, Grace MacDonald, a Scottish portrait painter married to an American, is surprised by the arrival of an old friend and former slave, Anibaddh Lyngdoh, who escaped to the East Indies nearly two decades before. Seeing her friend risk her freedom to resolve her unsettled past—Anibaddh explains, cryptically, "I left something that I want to get"—Grace feels "obligated to do anything, everything, to help." To that end, Grace heads to a Virginia plantation, ostensibly to paint portraits of the women who live there, while secretly unearthing the fate of those Anibaddh left behind. As Kingman pulls Grace through an exceedingly intricate plot, she subjects readers to lengthy discussions of real-life American painter and presidential portraitist Gilbert Stuart, daguerreotype techniques, and basic chemistry. Despite some inventive turns of phrase and melodramatic revelations, Kingman's latest loses momentum long before the big Philadelphia courthouse conclusion. (Aug.)
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