Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this new novel from the author of Cambridge combines four discrete narratives of different eras in African American history to form a stirring meditation on the hardships and perseverance of people torn from home. Three stories are of African Americans ``sinking hopeful roots into difficult soil'': Nash Williams, a former slave repatriated to Africa in 1834, is a Christian missionary in the rough, new country of Liberia; Martha Randolph, an elderly woman set free after the Civil War, heads west, hoping to find the husband and daughter sold many years before; and Travis, a black U.S. serviceman stationed in England during WW II, falls in love with a white, married Englishwoman and dreams of a home for the two of them away from past trials. The title story concerns James Hamilton, a 17th-century British slave trader, who, in letters home to his sweetheart and entries in the ship's log, coolly chronicles the steady accumulation of human livestock, slowed only by high prices and death. Phillips writes elegantly in a wide variety of voices, from the ``many-tongued chorus . . . of a common African memory'' that frames his book to the terse log entries of James Hamilton to the feverish hallucinations of Martha Randolph. His memorable, convincing characters, broad vision and evocative narrative result in a novel both resonant and deeply moving. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/03/1994 Release date: 01/01/1994 Genre: Fiction
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