Wednesday, June 15, 2022


Author:  Kaitlyn Greenidge
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1616207019 / 978-1616207014

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I saw my mother raise a man from the dead."

Favorite Quote:  "I do not know what I am or what I will have become by then. I am not sure I ever knew myself. I used to think this was a failing. Something to hide from. How could I be a righteous woman, to serve the world as you did, if I did not know myself? But that seems like sos little of a concern, now. I may not know myself, but I know the loneliness of love. I know that the world is too big to be knowable."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Libertie - the character and the story - are not what I expect. The book description speaks of a coming of age a story, a journey of self-discovery, and a journey of what it means to be a black woman in the 1860s. In the United States, that is the time of the Civil War, slavery, escape, and the fight for freedom.

Libertie Sampson is a young woman at the time. She was named by her father for "his longing. As a girl, I did not realize what a great burden this was to bear. I was only grateful." She lives with her mother, who is independent, strong, a voice in the community, and a  doctor. The opening sentence of the book speak to her role and the times. The good doctor helped black people escape to a better life; one of the methods was to medicate them such that they appeared virtually dead and to transport them in coffins! This is the opening scene of the book.

The beginning of the book sets up for a powerful, emotional story of the times and of history. The fact that the book description states that it is "inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States" lends itself to that image. I imagine that reference is to Libertie's mother. Unfortunately, this book is not her story although that is a story I wish to read. I want to know her story because she is Black, a woman, a doctor, and a single mother at a time when any one of those individually presents a challenge. All together, I cannot imagine. I want to know her story because of the quiet strength she displays and the strength she tries to pass on to Libertie. I want to know her story because I want to know all she has survived

This is, however, Libertie's story and her elusive search for freedom and independence. Unfortunately, this tale and this characters has a negative tone from beginning to end. I suppose finding her name a burden in the opening paragraphs of the book should have been an indication. Libertie's search for independence throughout the book seems to lead away and be structured as an escape from something rather than a move towards. Each steps seems to be an escape from what comes before. School from her mother's house. Marriage from school and her mother's expectations. Haiti from the United States. And more. At every turn.

At each turn, Libertie finds that what she escapes too is not quite what she envisions and does not provide her with what she seeks. At each turn, her vision of her situation focuses on what it is not rather than what it is. Her independence and happiness remain elusive. Much of the book conveys that negative tone, making it challenging to invest in Libertie as a character or to cheer for her happy ending. Even the ending leaves me doubtful that the next turn in Libertie's life will bring her what she seeks.

About the Author

Kaitlyn Greenidge's debut novel is We Love You, Charlie Freeman (Algonquin Books), one of the New York Times Critics' Top 10 Books of 2016. Her writing has appeared in the Vogue, Glamour, the Wall Street Journal, Elle, Buzzfeed, Transition Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Believer, American Short Fiction and other places. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University and the Guggenheim Foundation. She is currently Features Director at Harper’s Bazaar as well as a contributing writer for The New York Times. Her second novel, Libertie, is published by Algonquin Books and out now.

About the Book

Coming of age as a freeborn Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson is all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, has a vision for their future together: Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother, who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.

Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States and rich with historical detail, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new and immersive novel will resonate with readers eager to understand our present through a deep, moving, and lyrical dive into our complicated past. 

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