Henry O’Toole sails to America in 1848 to escape poverty and famine in Ireland, only to find anti-Irish prejudice awaiting him. Determined never to starve again, he changes his surname to Taylor and heads south to the state of Virginia, seeking work as a travelling blacksmith on the prosperous plantations. Sarah is a slave. Torn from her family and sold to Jubilee Plantation, she must navigate the hierarchy of her fellow slaves, the whims of her white masters, and now the attention of the mysterious blacksmith. Fellow slave Maple oversees the big house with bitterness and bile and knows that a white man’s attention spells trouble. Given to her half-sister as a wedding present by their white father, she is set on being reunited with her husband and daughter, at any cost.
This extraordinary debut novel heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in Black women’s writing. The novel is first-person narration told in alternating viewpoints. Set in 1848-1849 in Ireland, New York and Virginia (primarily Virginia). It is an interracial love story set in pre-Civil War America, and inspired by the true story of Huf’s great-great-grandparents. Along with love and race, it touches on themes of identity, sacrifice, belonging and survival.
Research included contemporary slave narratives (printed to further the abolitionist cause), digitally remastered audio recordings of former slaves, legislation on the question of slavery in the mid-19th century, historical texts on the Irish famine and first-hand accounts of English visitors to Ireland at the time, the writings of Charles Trevelyan (responsible for famine relief under Peel and Russell), historical texts on the antebellum South, and visits to the historically preserved Jubilee Plantation in Virginia on which the novel’s plantation is based.
‘A fabulous debut... powerful and convincing.’ – The Times Best Historical Fiction
‘Ambitious, sweeping, unafraid of acknowledging the complexity of the times... this is storytelling at its finest.’ – Francesca Brown, Stylist Best New Books
‘A riveting love story across the challenges of race and poverty… Huf’s delicate blend of passion and compassion is compelling, impressive and never sentimental.’ – Andrea Stuart
‘A moving debut novel... Huf never glosses over the cruelties of plantation life, but her story offers a glimpse of the redemptive power of love amid the inhumanity.’ – Sunday Times
‘A BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick, Tammye’s simple but elegant prose spins a heartfelt tale of love and desperation, and what it means to lose your freedom. Riveting historical romance.’ – Ben Williams 2020 Fiction Picks, Turnaround UK
‘A resonant and topical love story, intricately plotted and compellingly told, and a visceral exploration of what it means to be deprived of one's freedom. The stories of Henry, an Irish immigrant escaping the Great Famine, and Sarah, who is sold into slavery on a southern plantation, poignantly illustrate the dehumanising experience of being deprived of choice, in small ways as well as large, on a daily basis.’ – Umi Sinha
‘Amidst hunger, deprivation and the whimsical cruelties of slavery, two people dare to steal happiness. This graceful, assured debut novel creates an unusual slave narrative that starts in potato-famine Ireland and deftly weaves a touching American love story. The deceptively easy prose bristles with danger and possibility and I loved the at once thrilling and gentle pace of the novel. Tammye Huf is a wonderful storyteller.’ – Marina Salandy-Brown