Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: April 5-9, 2021

William Still

The Underground Railroad and the Angel at Philadelphia

Book Cover
William C. Kashatus
University of Notre Dame Press
Hardcover $35.00 (356pp)
978-0-268-20036-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In William Still, William Kashatus relates the story of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society (PASS) clerk who risked his life to help nearly a thousand escaped slaves reach freedom during the tumultuous years leading up to the American Civil War.

The book begins with the poignant story of Still’s encounter with his older brother, one of two who had been missing since they were left behind when their mother and sister escaped from slavery. It details how Still, in defiance of the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, became a pivotal Underground Railroad agent known as “The Angel at Philadelphia.” Self-taught and ambitious, the free Black abolitionist and director of the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad also became a writer, philanthropist, and early civil rights leader, but his anti-slavery work was ignored until the late twentieth century, as early accounts of the Underground Railroad were written by white abolitionists who tended to emphasize their own contributions.

Kashatus’s account is the first comprehensive biography of William Still. It includes the records Still kept, listing the names, places of origin, dates of escape, genders, and ages of each of the fugitive slaves he helped, making it a valuable resource for scholars and Black Americans researching their ancestry. Still had also interviewed each of the fugitives and compiled their stories into a book; his Underground Railroad is regarded as the most authentic source of information on the clandestine route to freedom.

Kashatus’s detailed biography of William Still, with its stories of courageous slaves plotting daring escapes, and moving accounts of free Black people who were kidnapped and taken into slavery, reveals the interracial cooperation involved in helping escaped slaves reach freedom, and honors the man who, at his death in 1902, was named “Father of the Underground Railroad.”

KRISTINE MORRIS (February 27, 2021)

A River Called Time

Book Cover
Courttia Newland
Akashic Books
Hardcover $28.95 (448pp)
978-1-61775-926-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Courttia Newland’s A River Called Time is an expansive speculative novel in which the British did not colonize Africa, but instead sought to learn from its cultures.

In an alternate reality London, Markriss has been selected to live inside the Ark, a giant building that houses a city’s worth of people who never see real sunlight, but who are promised greatness. His tough youth on the outside made him want a better life. But once Markriss is inside the Ark, he sees that the divisions between the rich and the poor are just as bad as they were on outside. He decides to team up with a band of revolutionaries who nurture his astral projection skills.

The book’s methodical storytelling reveals the particularities, personality, and lore of its world. From the Ark’s desolate Poor Quarter, to the chaotic levels below ground, class warfare and authoritarianism run rampant, though the media, for whom Markriss works, only share positive stories. African Kemetic cosmology is the dominant religion, suggesting that human greed and tribalism exist independent of spirituality. Motifs from ancient Egyptian religions hint at realities beyond Markriss’s own, and at an ending that ties the disparate issues of his dystopian world to his astral projection.

Markriss’s relationships with those whom he loves are a story stronghold. His wife’s sharp combination of compassion and barbarism holds him accountable and challenges his beliefs, while is long-lost younger brother is like a ghost of what’s wrong with the world, showing what could have been. As alternate realities reveal themselves, characters move in and out of the roles that define them, their identities shifting to fit their contexts.

Involving spirituality, colonization, and quantum realities, A River Called Time is an immersive speculative novel set in a dystopian city that’s facing an uprising.

AIMEE JODOIN (April 2, 2021)

Music All Around

Book Cover
Gema Sirvent
Lucía Cobo, illustrator
The Secret Mountain
Hardcover $16.95 (48pp)
978-2-92477486-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Sofia leaves “every salty echo of the sea” behind when she goes to visit her grandparents’ house in the woods, but just because the music changes doesn’t mean it’s lost, and she conducts new movements in the thumping feet of rabbits and the chatter of mice. The intricate illustrations are spellbinding, with every blade of grass and drop of rain rendered with precision. An included CD and digital download code provide a narrated version of the story with an accompanying theme song.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (February 27, 2021)

Monsters

Book Cover
Barry Windsor-Smith
Fantagraphics Books
Hardcover $39.99 (380pp)
978-1-68396-415-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Consummate craftsman Barry Windsor-Smith presents an epic tale of love, horror, revenge, and redemption in his outstanding graphic novel Monsters.

The story revolves around the fate of Bobby Bailey, a young man marked by family tragedy who enlists in the United States Army in 1964. He becomes a guinea pig in a clandestine project dubbed “Prometheus” that continues Nazi genetic experiments, and he’s transformed into a massive, powerful, grotesque creature.

A recruiting officer who harbors less visible secret abilities of his own is plagued by guilt about delivering Bobby to Project Prometheus. Using flashbacks to jump across different time periods and settings, the book explores the intertwined paths of the recruiting officer and his family, Bobby and his own family, and an intelligence officer-turned-local deputy, all of whom play key roles in the final denouement. Each character’s story line is given the time, depth, and space to make them feel alive in every way.

The book’s pen and ink artwork is exquisite, from its delicate shading to the way word balloons lead the eye up, down, and all around the page, maintaining a mesmerizing flow from one panel to the next. Despite plenty of grand, dramatic tension, some of the book’s most memorable moments come via subtle expressions of family dynamics around a dinner table, through distinctive speech patterns, dialogue, and lettering. Also revealing and affecting are the handwritten letters of Bobby’s mother, which show the measure of her desperation about her husband’s change in personality after his duties during and after World War II.

Years in the making, Monsters is a graphic narrative masterpiece and a haunting examination of the lingering effects of evil.

PETER DABBENE (February 27, 2021)

Just Like Us

A Veterinarian’s Visual Memoir of Our Vanishing Great Ape Relatives

Book Cover
Rick Quinn
Jane Goodall, contributor
Girl Friday Books
Hardcover $34.95 (246pp)
978-1-73488-021-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Rick Quinn’s Just Like Us presents each of Earth’s great ape species in their natural forest settings through extraordinary photographs and an elucidating, entertaining account of the Canadian veterinary opthamologist’s own education about our nearest relatives.

During this memoir, Quinn moves from curious ignorance to uncomfortable awareness. His transformation into a conservationist includes wry jokes at his own expense and meaningful reflections on the cost-benefits of great ape tourism.

With a cogent breakdown of human habituation and its effects on various great ape populations, Quinn addresses the human threat to great apes’ survival with insight and compassion. He notes that our destinies are intertwined, not only because the human fight for survival often infringes on great apes, but because of our many biological similarities.

Quinn is humble in narrating his fish-out-of-water story, which emphasizes the apes themselves and the crucial, often invisible frontline work of the civilian and medical personnel living closest to these species. At its heart, Just Like Us is an invitation to connect to the natural world with action and hope.

LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (April 2, 2021)

Barbara Hodge

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