Black Cloud Rising

Grove. Feb. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9780802159199. $27. F
DEBUT In this profoundly reflective novel, Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award winner Faladé (Fire on the Beach) uses real-life Civil War sergeant Richard Etheridge to explore the immediate consequences of emancipation. In autumn 1863, thousands of formerly enslaved men joined the ranks of the Union Army as it capitalized on its Tidewater Virginia foothold by eying eastern North Carolina, where Confederate irregulars still lurked. The African Brigade, formed by outlier abolitionist general Edward Augustus Wild, was tasked with routing out these bushwhackers after others (which is to say, white troops) had failed. The moral center and relentless questioner at the heart of this narrative, Etheridge must face down complex feelings about his past; he’s the son of an enslaved woman and the man who enslaved him, and he’s actually vested in his Etheridge heritage, even as he struggles with his father’s indifference. He must also square off against another senior sergeant who accuses him of hating his own Black skin, confront thoughts of his swaggering white biological cousin Patrick, and help his corporal find missing family, all while worrying about his own ma’am and his beloved Fanny.
VERDICT A triumphant examination of U.S. history and race relations at a crucial juncture, as seen through the eyes of the well-wrought, ever-questing Etheridge; highly recommended.
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