Thursday, 8 April 2021

A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf

Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

"Where is the liberty and freedom and rights and justice, when the law says Matthew Johnson owns my child after already owning my wife? What kind of Constitution for the people allows a thing like that? I country can claim that wrong is right, but that’ll never erase the stain of it." 

A More Perfect Union opens with the young Irish labourer, Henry, already driven to the brink of starvation by the venality of his English landlords, facing the horror of another blighted potato crop. When both his parents die within days of each other, he boards a ship for a new life in New York, only to find himself thwarted by yet more anti-Irish prejudice.

Meanwhile, Sarah is sold away from her family on a plantation in Virginia. She narrowly avoids being bought by a man who would clearly use her as a ‘bed-warmer,’ and is taken instead to a plantation run on ‘Christian’ principles, where the slaves are well fed and housed, and whippings are comparatively rare. Yet it remains to case that Sarah’s life is not her own.

When Henry heads south for the life of a travelling blacksmith, their paths cross and there is an immediate (and forbidden) attraction between them – and on one level, more that unites them than divides them. But could Sarah ever see Henry as anything other than another white Master, especially when he is employed to forge shackles to be used on slaves? And can Henry see past the relative security of Sarah’s life and understand what it means that – for Sarah or even her children, or her children’s children – there would never be the faintest possibility of boarding a ship for another life? 

It seems impossible that this story could have a happy ending, but Sarah and Henry find a love so deep that neither is willing to give up until all hope is lost.

Through this deeply personal tale, Huf reveals the desperate tragedy of both the Irish famine and slavery of the Southern plantations – while at the same time demolishing any false equivalence between them.

The novel shows up, too, the ugly hypocrisy of those who preached Christian principles, who claimed that it was ‘benevolent’ slavery was possible, but who viewed an escaping slave as a thief stealing from his master and thought for a white man to want to marry a black woman is “the most immoral proposal ever put.”

A beautiful story made all the more extraordinary with the knowledge that it was inspired by the true story of the author’s own great-great-grandparents. 

Longlisted for the 2021 Jhalak Prize. 

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Avoid If you Dislike: The demolition of comforting myths about slavery and white complicity.

Perfect Accompaniment:
A picnic in a meadow full of butterflies

Genre: Historical Fiction

Buy This Book Here:

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