From Publishers Weekly
Baker's ambitious but slack novel follows three generations of African-American men who make their mark in colonial and Revolutionary South Carolina, while battling nature, the supernatural and their sexual and emotional needs. Jasper Merian, a 29-year-old freed slave from Virginia with grandiose ambitions, settles in the forest beyond the town of Berkeley, S.C., where he toils to tame the wilderness. With the help of his wife, Sanne, he builds a home he calls Stonehouses, a place he hopes will be a utopia and a legacy for Sanne; their son, Purchase; and Jasper's son, Magnus, an escaped slave borne by another wife. While Magnus makes a life at Stonehouses, Purchase, a blacksmith, wanders the colonies, struggles through a fraught love affair and produces a son, Caleum, who grows up to join a Revolutionary militia out of neighborly loyalty more than political conviction. Baker (Once Two Heroes) brings authentic quotidian detail, evocation of the religious tensions of the era and a fervent sense of purpose to the novel. But his high-flown language is sometimes more inflated than eloquent, and the deliberately mystical, opaque storytelling leaches the novel's drama. (July)
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*Starred Review* Newly freed slave Jasper Merian wanders into Carolina territory, leaving behind a slave wife and young son. It is the seventeenth century, and most of America is untamed. Fighting harsh conditions--natural and unnatural--Jasper settles and eventually builds a homestead he grandly calls Stonehouses, where he marries Sanne and sires another son, Purchase. This place is meant to reflect Jasper's idea of utopia, and he makes his mark as he joins his neighbors in worries about hostilities with the native population and the injustices of slavery. They are eventually joined by Magnus, the slave son left behind, who has taken his freedom upon his mother's death. Teaching Magnus to live with freedom and Purchase to live with the responsibility that comes with a freedom he has always known, Jasper revisits his own notions of freedom and responsibility, religion and philosophy, marriage and love. Baker, author of the acclaimed Naming the New World (1997), has rendered a novel that, in its beauty, deftly drawn characters, and stirring look at the complexities of American slavery and race, recalls Edward P. Jones' The Known World (2003). Vanessa Bush
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