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.
"The relationship must have been much as the author depicts it in this fine first novel: a mixture of love and hate, of tenderness and cruelty and of freedom and bondage. The book is well researched, well written, insightful, and entertaining. Highly recommended.” Library Journal
[An] extremely affecting and poetic first novel. Even if historical fact and careful supposition were not the story’s basis, the Jefferson-Hemings relationship the novelist has imagined would be unforgettable.” The New Republic
A bold undertaking. The portrait of Jefferson is brilliantly imagined.” Larry McMurtry, New York Magazine
Chase-Riboud, an unusually gifted writer, has taken a stunning historical idea and made it sing with life. The characters and settingsthe Hemings family and the Jefferson of Paris and Monticelloare vivid. Sally Hemings is a beautiful novel: the writing is eloquent, the story haunting.” Grand Rapids Press
Haunting . . . powerful and touching.” The Denver Post
Her novelistic abilities are impressive: she writes with grace and force, has an eye for detail and an ear for dialogue, a sense of scene and a capacity to create believable and interesting characters . . . Intelligently, even brilliantly imagined.” - The New Yorker
Exquisitely crafted . . . a sensitive life study of a truly exceptional woman: complex, courageous, irresistibly attractive.” Cosmopolitan
The Thomas JeffersonSally Hemings legend is as deeply embedded in American mythology as John Henry. Barbara Chase-Riboud has captured all of the power, pain and ironic beauty which make the legend persist. It is a very moving and human novel.” Nathan Huggins, author of Black Odyssey