THE SWEET HELL INSIDE

Edward Ball, Author . Morrow $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-688-16840-7

In researching the bestseller Slaves in the Family (1998), Ball encountered William Harleston (1804–1874), a white man whose family considered him a bachelor though he lived for 25 years with Kate Wilson, his former slave, on and around the South Carolina rice plantation where he was born. They had eight children (born between 1843 and 1867) whose family history is recounted here largely via the memories of Edwina Harleston Whitlock (b. 1916), Ball's previously unknown relation, who referenced the "little red book" and "snippets of letters, handwritten copies of wills and genealogical charts" passed on to her by an uncle. Covering nearly 200 years, Ball's book tells "a tale of black and white sex in America, and its latter-day harvest," distinguished by remarkable family accomplishments and sprinkled with diverting scandal. By 19th-century standards, William and Kate's sons were educated professionals (butler, housepainter, tailor); their daughters married well. Their son Edwin's undertaking business brought wealth and status, affording the next generation a good education and the means to pursue the arts, teaching and social work. More fame arrived when Edwin's daughter married Daniel Joseph Jenkins, "a dark minister who was born a slave," who became founder of the orphanage in Charleston that spawned the Jenkins Orphanage Band, a force in the development of jazz. Ball's somewhat uneven work often digresses into such subjects as the history of jazz, the Harlem Renaissance and even embalming. A genealogical chart would have benefited readers, and scholars will find the notes a thorny grab bag. But Ball's mosaic illuminates the Harlestons' "little-known but fascinating role in the American national saga." More than 60 photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)

Forecast:Given the attention paid Ball's previous book and the currency of his subject, especially following the Jefferson-Hemings story, this one should attract strong attention and approach the sales of its predecessor.

Reviewed on: 08/20/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-06-050590-5
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