River Sing Me Home

Berkley. Jan. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9780593548042. $27. F
DEBUT Shearer’s debut novel begins breathlessly with Rachel on the run from her Barbados plantation. The year is 1834; slavery has been abolished in the British colonies, only to be replaced with exploitative “apprenticeships”—essentially indentured servitude. Yet it’s a liminal time, with a growing free population and increasing personal rights. Rachel finds an abandoned plantation managed by individuals who were formerly enslaved and from there sets out to locate the now adult children who were taken from her in enslavement. Her searches take her to Bridgetown, the largest town in Barbados, to the jungles of British Guiana, and eventually to Trinidad. The novel is in many ways an adventure story, but Shearer capably shifts the narrative from action to introspection, illuminating the inner life of this powerful matriarch. Rachel reassembles her family through sheer will, her remarkable search aided by a touch of magical realism and the islands’ interconnectedness. The author is a scholar of Caribbean history and in a fascinating afterword shares how historical accounts support the accuracy of Rachel’s odyssey.
VERDICT Recommended, especially for readers of historical fiction and Caribbean/postcolonial history in particular, with a remarkable female character at its core.
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