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The debut novel Africville is a richly woven story of a town settled by former slaves on the outskirts of Halifax, Nova Scotia (known as Africville), and of the Sebolt family, who settled there in the 1930s. Teenage Kath Ella Sebolt wants desperately to escape the town that she equates with deprivation and a lack of opportunity. After her boyfriend is killed during a clash between young people and Halifax constables in the village, she moves with her infant son to Montreal. Attending college as a single mother, and ultimately marrying a white man, she discovers that as much as she tries, severing ties to her former village is not easy. Kath Ella’s son, Etienne, puts even more distance between himself and the village, first moving across the border to Vermont, and then farther south to Alabama, where he passes for white. Etienne’s son, Warner, finds his standing in his all-white community compromised by the sudden revelation that he has black grandparents. As the story comes full circle, Warner visits his black relatives in Africville, who are suspicious of his motivations for coming. The family saga unfolds against the backdrop of the village of Africville, which is based on a real place that has become a symbol not only of Black-Canadian identity but also of the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of adversity, tragedy and change. This beautifully written novel delves into a little-known aspect of the history of enslaved peoples and will find a place on bookshelves next to other novels about place, such as George & Rue by George Elliott Clarke and The Known World by Edward P. Jones, about cross-racial relationships, such as Any Known Blood by Lawrence Hill, and the multi-generational sagas Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Lawrence Hill’s Canadian modern classic The Book of Negroes.
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