cover image In the Upper Country

In the Upper Country

Kai Thomas. Viking, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-48950-5

Thomas’s mesmerizing debut explores freedom, family, and the interconnections between white, Black, and Indigenous communities in 1859 Canada. Lensinda Martin, a reporter for the Coloured Canadian newspaper, lives in the Black village of Dunmore, a stop on the Underground Railroad. One day, American bounty hunter Pelham Beall arrives in pursuit of six Kentucky fugitives from slavery who are staying with a farmer named Simeon. After one of them, an elderly woman named Cash, fatally shoots Beall, Simeon asks Lensinda to visit Cash in jail to ensure her explanation is recorded and shared. Cash proposes a bargain with Lensinda: she will tell the story of her life if Lensinda does the same. Though Lensinda, a self-professed “woman of little patience,” is initially irked by the agreement, she’s soon swept up in their exchange and the surprising links between their lives. Thomas amplifies the women’s stories with excerpts from a collection of enslaved people’s narratives obtained by Lensinda, while stories of Cash’s Indigenous husband, John; Black Canadians during the War of 1812; and the American enslaved people who settled Dunmore add to the vivid tapestry. At once intimate and majestic, Thomas’s ambitious work heralds a bright new voice. (Jan.)