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A Free State

by Piazza, Tom

Format: Kindle Book 2015
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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.
Published Reviews
Publisher's Weekly Review: "In Piazza's well-told historical novel, 19-year-old Henry Sims, an enterprising runaway slave from a Virginia plantation, arrives in Philadelphia in 1855 with a banjo and prodigious music talent. He performs on street corners for money until James Douglass, the manager of a popular black minstrel troupe, catches one of Henry's rousing acts. Searching for fresh stage material to woo back the audiences and bolster his sagging profits, James offers Henry a job playing in the troupe. Piazza (City of Refuge) gives a fasciantingly detailed portrayal of 19th-century minstrelsy, a "national sensation" that could only legally be performed by white men wearing dark grease paint. Ironically, James adopts the practice to camouflage Henry in blackface while he appears onstage. James is willing to run the risk of arrest, but he still worries about reprisals if Henry is found to be an escaped slave or wanted criminal. Meantime, James Stephens, Henry's white plantation master (and biological father) back in Hopewell, Va., hires Tull Burton, an odious and cruel bounty hunter, to track down and return him. The final section loses a bit of steam, but Piazza's novel vividly depicts a cultural pheonmenon through Henry's harrowing journey. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."

Additional Information
Subjects Literature
Historical Fiction
African American Fiction
Publisher HarperCollins2015
Language English
ISBN 9780062284143