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Slavery and Its Legacies

Sunday, May 13, 2007

DWELLING PLACE A Plantation EpicBy Erskine Clarke Yale Univ. 601 pp. $20

Erskine Clarke's Dwelling Place tells the story of the people -- black and white, slave and free -- who lived on a coastal Georgia plantation from 1805 to 1869. "It is a single narrative because their lives were linked and interwoven in innumerable and often intimate ways," writes Clarke. But it is also two very separate histories. The history of the whites is "marked by the bitter irony of good intentions gone astray and of benevolent impulses becoming ideological supports for deep oppression," while that of the blacks recounts "a particular African-American family's resistance to the degradations of slavery." Based on extensive research in the records of Liberty County, the book, which won the Bancroft Prize in American History in 2006, took nine years to write.

MIDDLE PASSAGES African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005By James T. Campbell Penguin. 513 pp. $17

"Since the last years of the eighteenth century, thousands of African Americans have traveled to Africa, retracing the passage of millions of African captives," writes James T. Campbell in Middle Passages, an epic history of the relationship between African Americans and the land of their origins. "Even as direct memories of the continent faded -- by the Civil War, only about one percent of black people in the United States were African-born -- African Americans continued to look to Africa, seeking in its dim outlines a clue to the meaning of their own bitter, bewildering history." And often, what they found there -- "a 'Dark Continent' crying out for Christian civilization, a headquarters for global anti-colonial revolution, or a field of opportunity for entrepreneurs" -- revealed more about America, and their relationship to it, than about Africa itself.

THE HANGING OF ANGÉLIQUE The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old MontréalBy Afua Cooper Univ. of Georgia. 349 pp. $19.95

In 1734, 46 buildings burned to the ground in the French colonial town of Montréal. A 29-year-old Portuguese-born slave named Marie-Joseph Angélique was condemned, tortured and hanged. The Hanging of Angélique, writes Afua Cooper, "is a story that is part slave narrative, part historical analysis, part biography, and part historical archaeology." Angélique herself left few records, but her trial transcript reveals that "she was vocal in expressing her hatred of slavery; that she was rude and disobedient to her mistress; that she detested the French, and all Whites in general." By piecing together Angélique's story, Cooper aims to restore slavery to its place in "Canada's historical chronicles," from which, she says, it has been erased.

SLAVE COUNTRY American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep SouthBy Adam Rothman Harvard Univ. 296 pp. $18.95

By 1820, one million more people lived as slaves in the United States than had 30 years previously, and six new slave states had been admitted. "Slavery permeated virtually all human relations in the new country in direct and indirect ways," writes Adam Rothman in his history of the peculiar institution's growth in a country that had recently declared itself free. It "emerged from contingent global forces, concrete policies pursued by governments, and countless small choices made by thousands of individuals in diverse stations of life."

FROM OUR PREVIOUS REVIEWS

· Graham Joyce marvels in his review of The Stolen Child (Anchor, $13.95) that Keith Donohue "may seem to have written a clever debut novel about fairies. But the real triumph of the book is that, while our backs were turned, he has performed a switch and delivered a luminous and thrilling novel about our humanity."

· In his novel Theft (Vintage, $13.95), about treachery in the art world, Peter Carey "frames a story that shifts before our eyes -- maddeningly complex, hypnotically brilliant, entirely original," writes reviewer Ron Charles.

· According to Merle Rubin, Michel Houellebecq's latest novel, The Possibility of an Island (Vintage, $14.95), is "a skillful amalgam of prophecy, satire and science fiction."

Rachel Hartigan Shea is a contributing editor at Book World.

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