Amistad: HarperCollins. Dec. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780062913722. $25.99.
DEBUT Moving magisterially between a windy bluff in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where African Americans settled well over a century ago, and the American South from which their forbears came and to which some of their children returned, Colvin’s absorbing and fluidly written debut novel captures an acute sense of ties loosened and rebound. In the early 1900s, Kath Ella, momentarily misled by a friend she looses to tragedy, manages a scholarship to college in Montreal, where she eventually settles with a white husband after having a child with Omar, a boy from her hometown sent to Canada from Mississippi by his imprisoned protester parents for his safety. Son Etienne, adopted by her husband, can pass for white and eventually settles in Alabama, turning away from his African Canadian roots, much as he loved his mother. But his son, Warner, works his way back. The town itself, fractured by various names and incomers, regroups as Africaville mid-20th-century, with Kath’s sister Louella among those strongest in maintaining family and tradition. Throughout, the longing to define oneself for oneself vies with the powerful rootedness defined by Africaville, and the pain caused by shuffled-off family bonds is palpable.
VERDICT Excellent reading that revives our sense of community while revealing North America’s racial complexity in a new light. [See Prepub Alert, 5/20/19.]
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