cover image River Sing Me Home

River Sing Me Home

Eleanor Shearer. Berkley, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-59354-804-2

A woman travels the Caribbean in search of her children after she’s escaped from slavery in Shearer’s lyrical and deeply evocative debut. In 1834 Barbados, Rachel, 40, listens as her sugarcane plantation owner announces slavery has ended but that all the workers are legally bound to the plantation for another six years as apprentices (“six years of cutting and planting and cutting again. Freedom was just another name for the life they had always lived,” Shearer writes). Rachel runs away, desperate to learn the fate of her five surviving children who were sold into slavery. Former tobacco harvesters living on an abandoned plantation help Rachel to Bridgetown, where she is reunited with her mute daughter, Mary Grace. The two travel with a seaman named Nobody and an Akawaio Indian orphan named Nuno, chasing leads on her son Micah in the aftermath of an uprising in British Guiana. Tension mounts with a canoe trip up a crocodile-infested river, which leads them to her son Thomas Augustus and an encampment of runaway slaves. In Trinidad, Rachel finds her daughter Cherry Jane, a radiant beauty with upper-class pretensions and an invented identity as “the daughter of prominent free mulattoes.” Rachel finds her last surviving child, Mercy, pregnant and being whipped on a Trinidad plantation. In scenes of vivid horror, stirring resilience, and moving reconciliation, Shearer shows the cruel effects of slavery and its aftermath. The beautifully written depiction of a mother longing for her children makes this transcendent. Agent: Laurie Robertson, Peters Fraser and Dunlop Literary Agency. (Jan.)