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Up From Freedom
Cover of Up From Freedom
Up From Freedom
Borrow Borrow
For readers of Colson Whitehead, James McBride, Yaa Gyasi and Lawrence Hill, Up From Freedom is a powerful and emotional novel about the dangers that arise when we stay silent in the face of prejudice or are complicit in its development.
As a young man, Virgil Moody vowed he would never be like his father, he would never own slaves. When he moves from his father's plantation in Savannah to New Orleans, he takes with him Annie, a tiny woman with sharp eyes and a sharper tongue, who he is sure would not survive life on the plantation. She'll be much safer with him, away from his father's cruelty. And when he discovers Annie's pregnancy, already a few months along, he is all the more certain that he made the right decision.
As the years pass, the divide between Moody's assumptions and Annie's reality widens ever further. Moody even comes to think of Annie as his wife and Lucas as their son. Of course, they are not. As Annie reminds him, in moments of anger, she and Moody will never be equal. She and her son are enslaved. When their "family" breaks apart in the most brutal and tragic way, and Lucas flees the only life he's ever known, Moody must ask himself whether he has become the man he never wanted to be—but is he willing to hear the answer?
Stretching from the war-torn banks of the Rio Brazos in Texas to the muddy waters of Freedom, Indiana, Moody travels through a country on the brink of civil war, relentlessly searching for Lucas and slowly reconciling his past sins with his hopes for the future. When he meets Tamsey, a former slave, and her family trying to escape the reach of the Fugitive Slave Act, Moody sees an opportunity for redemption. But the world is on the cusp of momentous change, and though some things may be forgotten, nothing is ever really forgiven.
For readers of Colson Whitehead, James McBride, Yaa Gyasi and Lawrence Hill, Up From Freedom is a powerful and emotional novel about the dangers that arise when we stay silent in the face of prejudice or are complicit in its development.
As a young man, Virgil Moody vowed he would never be like his father, he would never own slaves. When he moves from his father's plantation in Savannah to New Orleans, he takes with him Annie, a tiny woman with sharp eyes and a sharper tongue, who he is sure would not survive life on the plantation. She'll be much safer with him, away from his father's cruelty. And when he discovers Annie's pregnancy, already a few months along, he is all the more certain that he made the right decision.
As the years pass, the divide between Moody's assumptions and Annie's reality widens ever further. Moody even comes to think of Annie as his wife and Lucas as their son. Of course, they are not. As Annie reminds him, in moments of anger, she and Moody will never be equal. She and her son are enslaved. When their "family" breaks apart in the most brutal and tragic way, and Lucas flees the only life he's ever known, Moody must ask himself whether he has become the man he never wanted to be—but is he willing to hear the answer?
Stretching from the war-torn banks of the Rio Brazos in Texas to the muddy waters of Freedom, Indiana, Moody travels through a country on the brink of civil war, relentlessly searching for Lucas and slowly reconciling his past sins with his hopes for the future. When he meets Tamsey, a former slave, and her family trying to escape the reach of the Fugitive Slave Act, Moody sees an opportunity for redemption. But the world is on the cusp of momentous change, and though some things may be forgotten, nothing is ever really forgiven.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book 11.

    He was sharpening an ax in the kitchen. Rachel had asked him to take it to the barn, but he said it was too cold and he was almost finished and he would clean it up when he was finished. She was dipping candles on the stove when they heard footsteps on the porch. Moody stood and went to the door: two runaways, a boy and a girl, threadbare clothes and no shoes. He had been wondering when something like this would happen. Rachel ushered them into the kitchen. The boy said they'd waited down by the creek until it was dark, and had come up when they saw light in the kitchen window. The boy was all right, a little muddied and cold, but the girl's dark skin was pebbled and scabby around her nose and mouth, her hair like matted river weeds, and her eyes rimmed with green pus. The cold seemed to have kept her intact, but now that she was inside she was shivering herself apart.

    Rachel inspected the girl and took her out to the barn with a pan of warm water and some soap and towels. Moody stayed in the kitchen with the boy, who was scared to death of Moody, possibly because he was still holding the ax. He kept looking to the window, maybe after the girl, maybe just out into the night. There was a bad smell in the room.

    "How'd you get here?" Moody asked him, to pass the time.

    "Follered de ribber," he said.

    "Where from?"

    "Massa's." He pointed south.

    "That your sister?"

    He didn't answer. He looked as though he didn't understand the question.

    "You hungry?" Moody asked.

    No answer this time, either. Moody guessed he hadn't taken it as an offer of food. He got up and put some fried catfish left from their supper on a plate and set it in front of the boy, who stared at it like he thought it might flip up and bite him if he touched it.

    "Go ahead," Moody said. "Watch out for bones."

    Carefully, the boy broke the white meat in half, shoved one piece into his mouth and set the other back on the plate. Then he sat back and looked at Moody while he chewed. Moody got up again and put another portion of fish on the plate along with a slice of crackling bread. The boy did the same with those, broke both in two, ate half and left the other for the girl.

    "What's your name?" Moody asked him.

    Before he could not answer again, Rachel came in with the empty pan. "Julius," she said, "take that food out to your friend. We'll be along in a minute."

    When the boy was gone, Rachel looked at Moody and he looked at her. She set the pan on the stove and poured more hot water into it. Moody remained seated at the table, letting her see how calm he was.

    "How long have you been hiding runaways?" he asked her.

    "Since we came here. Before that, really. My mother hid them in her boardinghouse in Huntsville."

    "Do you have some place you hide them?" he asked, thinking someone would be along shortly looking for them.

    "Robert built a false wall in the back of the barn," she said. "I haven't put them in there yet, but I will."

    "We better tend to it now," Moody said. "They don't seem to have come from too far away."

    They went out to the barn, Rachel carrying the pan with more hot water and some fresh towels, Moody scanning the ridge above the road and wishing he had a rifle. His leg hurt. Dante and Beatrice, both stolid horses, looked up from their stalls and fluttered at them when they came in, expecting grain. Satan was in the fourth stall. There was no horse in the third stall, and that was where Rachel had put the two runaways. The girl looked less terrible than she had. She was sitting up eating. Rachel had washed her and given her a clean dress....
About the Author-
  • WAYNE GRADY is the award-winning author of more than a dozen works of nonfiction and is also one of Canada's top literary translators. His debut novel, Emancipation Day, won the 2013 Amazon.ca First Novel Award and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Grady lives in Kingston, Ontario, with his wife, the novelist and creative nonfiction writer, Merilyn Simonds.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 1, 2018
    Grady (Emancipation Day) poses provocative questions about the legacy of slavery in this uneven novel. Virgil Moody doesn’t want anything to do with his father, a brutish slaveholder lording over his plantation in Savannah, Ga. When Virgil leaves for New Orleans in the 1840s, he takes Annie, an enslaved woman he is convinced would otherwise face a gruesome fate at his father’s hands. A few months after they start their new life, Annie’s pregnancy begins to show, but she is hesitant to reveal who fathered her child. Virgil treats her son, Lucas, as his own, and the years pass. As a young man, Lucas falls in love with an enslaved woman and runs away with her, and Annie kills herself. Virgil embarks on a journey across a country to find Lucas, during which he meets Sarah and Leason, a couple facing legal action for an interracial relationship, and a former slave named Tamsey who, with her family, is trying to outrun the Fugitive Slave Act. They offer him a chance to reexamine his own complicity and an opportunity to fight against the system that raised him. The book is sometimes choppy and would have benefited from more fully-developed secondary characters, especially given their roles in launching Virgil’s emotional, spiritual, and physical journey. Though thoughtful, the novel lacks the poignancy needed to help Virgil’s redemption fully land with the reader.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2018
    All the complexity of race and relationships is laid out in Grady's novel, which is set in the days just before the Civil War. Virgil Moody, son of a plantation owner from Savannah, is strongly against slavery and moves with one of his father's slaves, Annie, to New Orleans and then on to Rio Brazos, Texas. Canadian writer Grady's evocative prose brings to life the parched cotton fields, and his characters are at once understated and powerful. Plot twists guide Moody to Freedom, Indiana, with Tamsey, a former slave, and to the realization that being well-intentioned is not enough when the lives of others are at stake. Grady's historical tale captures all the social turbulence and personal tragedies associated with being enslaved in the South and a freeman in the North. Race is never irrelevant, and liberty is never simple. The extent to which blacks and whites are intertwined is laid out in a brilliant trial scene involving Tamsey's son and his wife. This is a moving and eye-opening reminder of history's deep scars. In the best tradition of Toni Morrison and Colson Whitehead, Grady brings home the truth that there are no simplistic ways to combat and overcome deep-rooted hate and fear.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2018, American Library Association.)

  • Toronto Star "Powerful. . . . Forgiveness is not easy, nor is the story that Grady tells. . . . But at a time when racism and violence is still tearing at America--and Canada--it is a timely story that sheds light on how far we have and have not come. . . . [Up From Freedom] is a deeply layered story well told."
  • Waterloo Chronicle "Up From Freedom is an exceptional novel, and one that I expect will be widely read both in Canada and the United States, and around the world. . . . Up From Freedom brings all of [Grady's] skill as a writer to the page, and his story is one you will not forget."
  • Booklist, starred review "In Up From Freedom, Wayne Grady has written an arresting novel about the United States bustling into the age of steam as it also drifts helplessly towards a catastrophic civil war. It is a novel that wisely, compassionately and movingly brings to vivid life a cast of characters, black and white, struggling in the snares of slavery and racism. It is a rare achievement, a novel that is both timely and timeless, a book that locates conscience and hope at the very center of human existence."
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