A Free State

A Free State

3.79 (213 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

The author of City of Refuge returns with a startling and powerful novel of race, violence, and identity set on the eve of the Civil War.

The year is 1855. Blackface minstrelsy is the most popular form of entertainment in a nation about to be torn apart by the battle over slavery. Henry Sims, a fugitive slave and a brilliant musician, has escaped to Philadelphia, where he earns money living by his wits and performing on the street. He is befriended by James Douglass, leader of a popular minstrel troupe struggling to compete with dozens of similar ensembles, who imagines that Henry's skill and magnetism might restore his troupe's sagging fortunes.

The problem is that black and white performers are not allowed to appear together onstage. Together, the two concoct a masquerade to protect Henry's identity, and Henry creates a sensation in his first appearances with the troupe. Yet even as their plan begins to reverse the troupe's decline, a brutal slave hunter named Tull Burton has been employed by Henry's former master to track down the runaway and retrieve him, by any means necessary.

Bursting with narrative tension and unforgettable characters, shot through with unexpected turns and insight, A Free State is a thrilling reimagining of the American story by a novelist at the height of his powers.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 235 pages
  • 140 x 211 x 23mm | 363g
  • HarperCollins Publishers Inc
  • HarperCollins
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0062284126
  • 9780062284129
  • 1,509,949

Review quote

"A page-turning novel about real times that are stranger than fiction."--New York Post
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Back cover copy

The author of City of Refuge returns with a startling novel of race, violence, and identity.

The year is 1855. Blackface minstrelsy is the most popular form of entertainment in a nation about to be torn apart by the battle over slavery. Henry Sims, a fugitive slave and a brilliant musician, has escaped to Philadelphia, where he lives by his wits and earns money performing on the street. He is befriended by James Douglass--leader of the Virginia Harmonists, a minstrel troupe struggling to compete with dozens of similar ensembles--who senses that Henry's skill and magnetism could restore his show's sagging fortunes. The problem is that black performers are not allowed to appear onstage, even in Philadelphia. Together the two concoct a dangerous masquerade to protect Henry's identity, and he creates a sensation in his first appearances with the Harmonists. Yet even as the troupe's fortunes begin to improve, a brutal slave hunter named Tull Burton has been employed by Henry's former master to track down the runaway and retrieve him, dead or alive.

A Free State is both a riveting chase novel and a searing parable of liberty and its costs. Charged with narrative tension and unforgettable characters, A Free State is a thrilling work by a novelist at the height of his powers.
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Rating details

213 ratings
3.79 out of 5 stars
5 22% (46)
4 45% (96)
3 27% (57)
2 4% (9)
1 2% (5)
Book ratings by Goodreads
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