cover image Things Past Telling

Things Past Telling

Sheila Williams. Amistad, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-309707-0

The resilience of family and the importance of memory loom large in this emotionally satisfying tale from Williams (The Secret Women) , inspired by the life of an African woman who lived to be 112. Maryam Priscilla Grace never forgets her home in Edo after she’s kidnapped at 10, in 1769, and taken across the ocean. Before the ship can off-load its captives in Savannah, the pirate Caesar seizes it and frees all those onboard. Caesar brings Maryam to his home off the coast of Florida, where she remains with his family for five years and learns the practice of midwifery. Then, after a British vessel captures Caesar’s ship when Maryam is with him on a raid, she’s sold to a Virginia plantation owner. She works primarily as a midwife, but is forced out to the fields whenever she’s not tending a patient. Maryam meets James, enslaved on a neighboring farm, and the two marry in 1781 and raise two sons, though James and the boys are later sold to pay off a debt, setting in motion a series of harrowing changes in her life over which she has little control. Facing heartbreaking compromises as she starts a new family, and life-threatening dangers while helping runaways, Maryam ​nevertheless ​doesn’t give up on recreating her lost family. Throughout, Williams offers vivid descriptions and sticks to the historical timeline without making the narrative feel didactic. It’s a remarkable character portrait. Agent: Matt Bailer, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Mar.)