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Sally Hemings: A Novel Paperback – August 5, 2000

4.4 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When this stirring work by Philadelphia-born Paris-based sculptress and historical-fiction writer Barbara Chase-Riboud first appeared in 1979, it was dismissed by many mainstream historians as "hogwash." But with DNA evidence proving that Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, did indeed father at least one child by his black slave mistress, Sally Hemings, Chase-Riboud's book deserves a new read. With her painstaking eye for research, Chase-Riboud unfolds a complex 19th-century quilt of miscegenation, denial, hypocrisy, slavery and, yes, love in Virginia. She brings to life Heming's relationship with Martha, her half-sister and the President's wife on his Monticello estate; Jefferson's seduction of Hemings in Paris after Martha's death; and his lifelong concubinage of Hemings until his own death, when she and her offspring were freed. Chase-Riboud avoids the sentimental "tragic-mulatto trap" that other writers have fallen into when they deal with slave relations by making Hemings not only multidimensional and believable, but, given late-20th-century political scandals, chillingly contemporary. Along with the novel's other sub-themes, including black disenfranchisement and the fear of reenslavement, Riboud intimates that Jefferson-- despite his racist rantings in Notes on the State of Virginia, which Chase-Riboud uses as epigraphs--may have actually loved this black woman, and that the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings was perhaps the clearest example of the American imperative of "seeking a more perfect union," a controversial portrayal that Chase-Riboud makes plausible with skillfully written prose. --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Unforgettable...Extremely affecting and poetic." --The New Republic

"An act of great daring...Deeply moving." --Chicago Sun-Times

"Exquisitely crafted...A sensitive life study of a truly exceptional woman: complex, courageous, irresistably attractive...elegantly self-possessed." --Cosmopolitan

"Sally Hemings is noble and mysterious-a female cult object." --Mary McCarthy

Product Details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (August 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312247044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312247041
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,454,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When I was a young adolescent, my Illini-Germanic American and immigrant family and I went to Monticello. I inquired as to why there was a "trap door" into Jefferson's bedroom and was told that Mr. Jefferson used the space above his bedroom to store clothing, etc. I didn't believe it, Thanks be to God! Many years later, I learned of this book while living in Durham, NC. I found a copy in a used bookstore and read it and realized that my adolescent suspicions were grounded in hidden truths! Barbara Chase-Riboud charaturization of the Life of Jefferson is NOW something that the tour guides of Monticellio do reference. (Wonders never Cease!) The recent DNA studies and the fact that the some of the members of Thomas Jefferson's family have acknowledged the Hemmings as their Family members will no doubt bring this "long forgotten" historical-"fiction" novel into it's own. Hopefully, the re-publication of the work will benifit the Great-great-grand children of Sally Hemmings and will likewise recognize the other works of Barbara Chase-Riboud as well as other "Afro-American" Female writers who dared/dare to record American History NOT as "An American Controversy" but as This United State s of American History. Sally Hemmings is clearly in this work a Beacon of Light for the WOMEN of this Nation as Rosa Parks was/is. WOMEN of this Nation who dare to explore "where they came from" and "where their Strength" lies Embodied" will find in Sally Hemmings, as she speaks today from Barbara's novel, a Woman who lives more fully than she could enjoy herself when she was alive: in the world she was birthed into, she was not recognized as a Woman.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I always vaguely admired Thomas Jefferson and knew that he was an interesting sort of man and quite the genius. However, I was completely surprised and interested to read about his relationship with Sally Hemings. I couldn't put this book down and I resolved to read more about Sally Hemings. How sickening and dreadful we "humans" have treated each other and still treat each other! How could Jefferson had slaves? (How could anyone?)
I think that this sort of book should be required reading in high schools and colleges instead of some of the deadly boring books assigned in Lit classes. Most people don't think about and don't know how people of color and how women have been so ignored, disrespected and hidden in American history.
SALLY HEMINGS is a novel, but this story tells the sad truth of slaves and women. I'd recommend it for men and women... It's a good read and it's thought-provoking... There are women in parts of the world in similar circumstance right now and we are oblivious to their situations. Hopefully, their stories won't stay buried as the story of SALLY HEMINGS has been.
Good book. I really recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
Barbara Chase-Riboud did an amazing job with creating fiction using true historical documentation. It was a compelling and informational read. One of my friends recommended it, and I am glad she did. If you want to read about Sally Hemings and get as close to an accurate information, this is probably as close as you can get. The quotes from Jefferson's writings and other documents connect this story like nothing else I have read. Definitely a must for history buffs.
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Format: Paperback
Barbara Chase-Riboud does a miraculous job writing her novel Sally Hemings. Not only does she give the reader a clear view of the effects that slavery placed upon African Americans, the novel was written using Sally Hemings as the speaker. It gives an insight to the way that slaves did feel when they were owned by white masters. This book was exciting to engage upon and from chapter to chapter more information about Thomas Jefferson and his personal side and emotions were shown unlike in other biographies.Jefferson was forced to deal with the pain of death in his family with his wife and some of their children who died at a young age. When the book shared the comfort and tenderness that Sally Hemings had for this man it was remarkable to read about and the author put this into words, which really helped the reader visualize the situation. This book gave useful information about slave life in Virginia and the free life in Paris, yet helped the reader to actually see that relationships between two people can be inevitable and we notice that Sally Hemings was questioning herself throughout the book to see if she truly wanted her freedom from her lover Thomas Jefferson.The words that were spoken to Sally from her brother, Mother, Martha and the other characters in this novel prove that she was a strong willed woman, who was not only beautiful physically, but on the inside as well. This book was recommended to me and i am very glad that i had the opportunity to read it.
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Format: Paperback
I was a guide at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello when the DNA evidence linking Jefferson to Hemings exploded in the mid-1990s, and know how affected many were by the mere thought of this relationship being real. The reverberations are still being felt a full decade-plus later.

Barbara Chase-Riboud published this novel a full 15 years before the Jefferson-Hemings relationship was all but confirmed (despite the protestations of a still vocal minority), and what better way to contextualize something about which we know so little than with a work of fiction? With actual evidence to contradict her being quite scarce, Chase-Riboud is able to turn the tale into a detailed, dramatic story. It really doesn't matter who the main protagonists happen to be. I am reminded of Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels", in which the author used very well known situations and "characters" (Lee, Chamberlain) to create tense, gripping scenes that undoubtedly did not occur exactly as written.

It's not a work of history, and regardless of your opinion re: whether Jefferson did or didn't you'll find yourself turning page after page.
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