In the Upper Country

Viking. Jan. 2023. 352p. ISBN 9780593489505. $27. F
DEBUT This groundbreaking first novel reveals the shared history between African Canadian and Indigenous Canadian peoples and their relationship to events in the United States. Set in the mid-1800s, the story opens with main character Lesinda (called “Sinda”), an educated African Canadian woman and healer, being asked to attend to a white man who had been shot in their remote fictional town in southern Ontario. Upon arrival, she finds a wealthy plantation owner from Kentucky dead in a cornfield and soon learns that he had been seeking to recapture a family who had escaped from enslavement. When budding journalist Sinda visits the local jail to interview the woman who allegedly killed the plantation owner, she is surprised to learn that her interlocutor, Cash, is her grandmother. As the pieces of Cash’s and Lucinda’s stories come together, events surrounding the War of 1812, which pitted Black and Indigenous Canadians against U.S. Americans, intensify the narrative.
VERDICT This fascinating series of stories within stories reflects the fragmentary history of African and Indigenous people experiencing the effects of enslavement, particularly from a Canadian perspective. Engrossing and intensely readable, this book represents just the beginning of a larger narrative, with many chapters yet to be told; very highly recommended.
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