On April 15, 1865, Asia Booth Clarke wakes to find her Philadelphia home swarming with soldiers and her beloved brother John Wilkes Booth the subject of a manhunt—for the assassination of President Lincoln. The nation’s hatred for those involved in the President’s murder will eventually drive Asia into self-imposed exile abroad.
Narrated in the first person by Asia, this was a novel with great potential that was not realized for this reader. I never understood from Asia’s narrative what caused John Wilkes Booth to be so consumed with hatred that he became a killer, and I never got a very clear sense of what motivated Asia, whose loyalties are torn, to become as deeply as involved in his plotting as she did. Much of the novel is taken up with a series of vignettes from the siblings’ childhood, where Asia and John do not so much as talk to each other as declaim lines; as such, I found it difficult to believe in the deep emotional attachment that brother and sister are portrayed as having. Asia’s relationships with various other important people in her life, such as her father and her husband, are rendered in a similar, frustratingly opaque manner, with the mannered style of the narrative repeatedly getting in the way of the story. Only in the opening scene and in the last part of Booth’s Sister, where Asia waits in agony for news of her brother even as his accomplices continue to plot, did the novel and Asia briefly come alive for me.
Singer does provide a brief but interesting Author’s Note about Asia’s life in exile, thus providing a starting point for those curious to know more about Asia and her notorious brother.