Synopses & Reviews
, the new novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr., takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee's surrender, Sam — a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army — decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all "belonged."
At the same time, Sam's wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slaveowner and Confederate officer.
The book's third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her fathers dying wish.
At bottom, Freeman is a love story — sweeping, generous, brutal, compassionate, patient — about the feelings people were determined to honor, despite the enormous constraints of the times. It is this aspect of the book that should ensure it a strong, vocal, core audience of African-American women, who will help propel its likely critical acclaim to a wider audience. At the same time, this book addresses several themes that are still hotly debated today, some 145 years after the official end of the Civil War. Like Cold Mountain, Freeman illuminates the times and places it describes from a fresh perspective, with stunning results. It has the potential to become a classic addition to the literature dealing with this period. Few other novels so powerfully capture the pathos and possibility of the era particularly as it reflects the ordeal of the black slaves grappling with the promise — and the terror — of their new status as free men and women.
"Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Pitts once again demonstrates his gift for historical fiction; having examined the African-American experience of the 20th century in 2009's Before I Forget, he turns his lens to the painful aftermath of the Civil War in his newest. The traumatic period is viewed from the perspectives of two very different, but equally inspirational protagonists. As soon as the end of the fighting has been announced, runaway slave Sam can only think of reuniting with his wife, Tilda, whom he has not seen in 15 years. Despite the difficulties of travelling from his current home of Philadelphia to Buford, Mississippi, and his uncertainty about how warmly she will welcome him, Sam perseveres. His encounters in the South, which jarringly assert that the end of the war does not equal an end to bigotry and hatred, parallel those of Prudence Kent. An affluent white woman from Boston, Kent is headed to Buford to establish a school for former slaves, an idealistic vision that rapidly earns the violent wrath of white Southerners. In lyrical prose, Pitts unflinchingly and movingly portrays the period's cruelties, and triumphs in capturing the spirit of the times through eminently-identifiable lead characters. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A uniquely American epic...Freeman is an important addition to the literature of slavery and the Civil War, by a knowledgeable, compassionate and relentlessly truthful writer determined to explore both enslavement in all its malignancy and also what it truly means to be free." Howard Frank Mosher, Washington Post
"Leonard Pitts has a passion for history and a gift for storytelling. Both shine in this story of love and redemption, which challenges everything we thought we knew about how our nation dealt with its most stubborn stain." Gwen Ifill, PBS, author of The Breakthrough
"Freeman is a myth of what's humanly possible, a needed story about little-known heroism, and a shadow thrown forward to the struggles of American families in the 21st century." John Timpane, Philadelphia Inquirer
"Post-Civil War America is fertile ground for novelists, but few have tilled it with such grace and majesty as Leonard Pitts. In Freeman, Pitts weaves a beguiling, cinematic love story against a rich tapestry of American history, evoking unforgettable characters in a narrative that could easily replace a shelf of textbooks. What a splendid read!" Herb Boyd, co-editor of By Any Means NecessaryMalcolm X: Real, not Reinvented
"Leonard Pitts, Jr., who won a Pulitzer Prize for his searing Miami Herald columns, may well pick up that award again for Freeman...[Pitts] richly illuminates the interior lives of free and enslaved Black folks. He also delivers a sweeping romance that reaffirms the power of love even against the most horrific circumstances." Patrik Henry Bass, Essence magazine
"Rich in period details from the mundane to the most atrocious, the captivating story Pitts weaves is simplistic in its resonance but complex in its emotions. The characters and their growth, their fierce and stirring highs and lows, their battles with their own prejudices, make this novel unforgettable." Amy Canfield, Miami Herald
"This gripping and difficult novel remains a story of imperfect triumph for those former slaves and for the handful of whites who try to help them...[Pitts] keeps the reader hooked through outrage after outrage." Arlene McKanic, BookPage
In the months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Sam — a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army — sets out on foot to return to the war-torn South. He is compelled to find his wife, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the farm to which they all belonged.
At the same time, Sam's wife, Tilda, is forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner from the charred remains of the Mississippi farm into Arkansas. In search of a place that will still respect his entitlements as slave-owner and Confederate officer.
Meanwhile, Prudence, a headstrong white woman of means leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for former bondsmen, and honor her father's dying wish.
Freeman is a love story, sweeping, generous, brutal and compassionate. Few novels so powerfully capture the pathos and possibility of black slaves grappling with the promise and terror of their new status as free men and women.
About the Author
Leonard Pitts, Jr. was born and raised in Southern California and now lives in suburban Washington, DC, with his wife and children. He is a columnist for the Miami Herald and won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, in addition to many other awards. He is also the author of the novel Before I Forget (Agate Bolden, 2009); the collection Forward From this Moment: Selected Columns, 1994-2009, Daily Triumphs, Tragedies, and Curiosities (Agate Bolden, 2009); and Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood (Agate Bolden, 2006).