A Long Way from Home

Connie Briscoe, Author HarperCollins Publishers $25 (348p) ISBN 978-0-06-017278-7
Briscoe (Big Girls Don't Cry) reconstructs her family history in this dense and plot-driven tale. Daughter of a chambermaid and of a driver at a neighboring property, 10-year-old Clara is a house slave at retired president James Madison's Montpelier plantation. When ""massa"" dies, the rhythm of their lives is disrupted, and Madison's stepson's poor management throws Montpelier into chaos, leading to its inevitable sale to new owners. Soon afterward, Clara gives birth to daughters Ellen and Susan, but will tell them their only that their father is white. They adjust to a series of owners over several years, but the family is fractured when Ellen runs away and Susan is bought as a gift for Lizbeth, the daughter of Mr. Willard, a wealthy Richmond banker and former Montpelier owner who is connected to Susan's past. Off the plantation for the first time, Susan is sometimes mistaken for white in public, giving her a glimpse of the complicated freedom of ""passing."" She meets and eventually marries Oliver Armistead, a respected free black, amid the rumblings of impending civil war. After the war, the Willards are left in financial ruin, and so agree to let Susan leave Richmond with Oliver. Only then can she answer the mysteries of her paternity and discover the fate of her scattered family. Briscoe's characters, especially Susan, are largely appealing, and the novel's extended chronology is informative. While the book's conclusion is unsurprising, its author's personal exploration of her family's history (Susan is Briscoe's great-great-grandmother) is able historical fiction, although character development is sacrificed to a panoramic view. 150,000 first printing; $350,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999
Release date: 08/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Analog Audio Cassette - 2 pages - 978-0-694-52149-4
Prebound-Other - 400 pages - 978-0-613-46256-3
Prebound-Glued - 978-0-606-22863-3
Mass Market Paperbound - 416 pages - 978-0-06-103021-5
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