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Slaves in the Familyby Edward Ball
Winner of the 1998 National Book Award for Nonfiction
Synopses & Reviews
Slaves in the Family is the winner of the 1998 National Book Award for nonfiction and hailed by The New Yorker as "a brilliant blend of archival research and oral history." First-time author and award-winning journalist Edward Ball confronts the legacy of his family's slave-owning past, uncovering the story of the people, both black and white, who lived and worked on the Balls' South Carolina plantations. It is an unprecedented family record that reveals how the painful legacy of slavery continues to endure in America's collective memory and experience.
Author Edward Ball, a descendant of one of the largest slave-owning families in the South, discovered that his ancestors owned 25 rice plantations, worked by nearly 4,000 slaves. In Slaves in the Family, he confronts his past — scouring family archives, parish records, telephone directories, and historical-society collections. Ball's fact-finding took him slogging not only down the back roads of Carolina's low country but also to West Africa to meet the descendants of the traders who sold slaves to the family.
Through meticulous research and by interviewing scattered relatives, Ball contacted some 100,000 African-Americans living in the U.S. today who are all descendants of Ball slaves. In intimate conversations with them, he garnered information, hard words, and devastating family stories of precisely what it means to be enslaved. He found that the family plantation owners were far from benevolent patriarchs; instead there is a dark history of exploitation, interbreeding, and extreme violence against the slaves.
Slaves in the Family is an extraordinary and poignant account of interwoven lives and one man's effort to come to terms with his disturbing family legacy and his nation's past.
"Ball's impressive detective work and the black voices it records build a monumental and extraordinary case history of the rise and fall of America's most shameful institution." Kirkus Reviews
"A tour de force....[A] remarkable book....Part oral history, this unique family saga is a catharsis and a searching inventory of racially divided American society." Publishers Weekly (Starred and Boxed Review)
"Everyone should read and learn from this luminous book....Like Alex Haley's Roots, through which African American history came into national focus....The book is not only honest in its scrupulous reporting but also personal narrative at its finest." San Francisco Chronicle
"Ball is a first-rate scholar-journalist....Outside Faulkner, it will be hard to find a more poignant, powerful account of a white man struggling with his and his nation's past." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"A masterpiece...remarkable....[A] large omnium gatherum of enchanting fireside anecdotes, secrets teased out of reluctant fragments from the remote past..." The Raleigh News & Observer
A former Village Voice columnist journeys into his family's slave-owning past, telling the story of black and white families who lived side by side for five generations.
The moving, critically acclaimed story of one man's journey to find the descendants of the slaves who lived on his own family's plantation. "A work of breathtaking generosity and courage".--Pat Conroy. 48-page insert.
"[A] LANDMARK BOOK."
--San Francisco Chronicle
--The New York Times Book Review
--The Boston Sunday Globe
--The New Yorker
"EVERYONE SHOULD READ AND LEARN FROM THIS LUMINOUS BOOK...Like Alex Haley's Roots, through which African American history came into national focus...Slaves in the Family has the potential for creating a perceptual shift in the American mind...The book is not only honest in its scrupulous reporting but also personal narrative at its finest."
--San Francisco Chronicle
"BALL IS A FIRST-RATE SCHOLAR-JOURNALIST...He's also a good detective, tracking down the many descendants of Ball slaves from New York to California and back in the South and coaxing them, often with some difficulty, to tell their stories...Outside Faulkner, it will be hard to find a more poignant, powerful account of a white man struggling with his and his nation's past."
--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"A MASTERPIECE...REMARKABLE...It is a work about slaves in the family. But it is also a large omnium gatherum of enchanting fireside anecdotes, secrets teased out of reluctant fragments from the remote past, the real lives of blacks and whites whose stories had been lost in the disintegrating churn of time until Edward Ball's patient reconstructions."
--The Raleigh News & Observer
"A TOUR DE FORCE...The heart of this remarkable book consists of his sleuthing--tracking down and interviewing the descendants of former Ball slaves across the country... Part oral history, this unique family saga is a catharsis and a searching inventory of racially divided American society."
--Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed review)
"A PAGEANTRY OF PASSIONS AND STRUGGLES."
--African Sun Times
Includes bibliographical references (p. -486) and index.
About the Author
Edward Ball was born in Savannah, Georgia, graduated from Brown University, and was a columnist for The Village Voice. This is his first book.
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