At the end of the 17th century, Jasper Merian, a freed bondsman, leaves a wife and child in Virginia to carve out a life farming the western edge of Carolina. He contends with the forces of nature, as well as the supernatural, to establish his utopia, Stonehouses. He marries a strong woman, Sanne, has another son, and, with hard work, through periods of deprivation and abundance, he prospers as a landowner, husband, and father. However, memories of the family he left behind, and the promises he made, compel him to try to buy their freedom once he has the means. At the risk of losing his new family, Jasper travels the roads back to Virginia. He is a free man of means, but he is not without limits in society, regardless.
This multigenerational story is wide ranging and superbly written. The action covers a large geographical area, from Carolina to Virginia, New York, and beyond, from the time of the earliest settlements to just after the Revolution. It delves into questions of politics, social status and success, family obligation and religious freedom in colonial America. Baker confronts the injustices of slavery and the slave trade, but doesn’t shy away from the harsher realities of the time period, such as that some free black landowners owned slaves themselves. He explores the terrain of the heart and soul: what is love, why is love at times so cruel, and how can it be kept safe when the world falls apart? This novel is memorable, moving, and full of the small moments in life that reveal larger truths. Definitely recommended.