Two periods of American racial history are revealed through this hauntingly powerful novel. 1910, Spring – dying Edward’s mother – is with him in the Philadelphia hospital as the city riots carry on around it fuelled by hatred. Edward is black and seemingly drove a street car into the window of a white-only shop. He should not have been driving it at all. We feel Spring’s grief as, accompanied by the spirit of her dead sister, she tries to find peace for them all as she relates, to Edward, his family’s history. In the short time of the final phase of her son’s life she shares the story beginning in 1843 of a 12-year-old free black girl being kidnapped by a white farm owner. He believes his land is cursed, as no babies have been born there, so he wants Ella to be the one to lift this curse and breed from her. Repugnant, awful, inhumane – the adjectives could flow here. However, through this account we learn about the part of history that the history books often miss out – the human cost. The desperate means people in desperate situations will go to, to try and escape the system of slavery.
The importance of oral storytelling is shown as it is needed to keep the truth alive so that the fate of these people is remembered – an apt title for the book. The book is beautifully written in a matter-of-fact way. It does not linger, but reveals. It also shows how freedom, once given, does not mean the end to hatred, inhumanity, segregation or inequality. It is merely one step on a long journey for future generations. This is a memorable, harrowing novel, revealing painful truths, yet an excellent read.