The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson
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For fans of Cold Mountain and The Invention of Wings comes “a magnificent, immersive, breathtaking work of historical fiction” (Jennifer Chiaverini, New York Times bestselling author) that follows the epic journey of a slave-turned-Comanche warrior who travels from the brutality of a New Orleans sugar cane plantation to the indomitable frontier of untamed Texas, searching not only for the woman he loves but also for his own identity.
I have been to hangings before, but never my own.
Sitting in a jail cell on the eve of his hanging, April 1, 1875, freedman Persimmon “Persy” Wilson wants to leave a record of the truth—his truth. He may be guilty, but not of what he stands accused: the kidnapping and rape of his former master’s wife.
In 1860, Persy had been sold to Sweetmore, a Louisiana sugar plantation, alongside a striking house slave named Chloe. Their deep and instant connection fueled a love affair and inspired plans to escape their owner, Master Wilson, who claimed Chloe as his concubine. But on the eve of the Union Army’s attack on New Orleans, Wilson shot Persy, leaving him for dead, and fled with Chloe and his other slaves to Texas. So began Persy’s journey across the frontier, determined to reunite with his lost love. Along the way, the Comanche captured him and his only chance of survival was to prove himself capable of becoming a warrior. His odyssey of warfare, heartbreak, unlikely friendships, and newfound family would change the very core of his identity and teach him the meaning and the price of freedom.
From the author of the New York Times Notable Book Life Without Water, The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson is a sweeping love story that “is as deeply moving and exciting an American saga as has ever been penned” (Lee Smith, author of Dimestore).
the story is rich and evocative
As he waits for his execution, Persimmon Wilson is determined to share his story: he’s far more than the names currently used to dismiss his being. At the heart, this is a love story, not always between a man and woman, but of a man with the life he has lived, and the country he hopes will be better when he’s gone.
Sold by his owner in Virginia to a sugar-cane plantation in Louisiana, owned by Wilson, Persy first meets the woman of his dreams, Chloe. But this is no simple story, they are owned and in no way in charge of their own destiny. A fact repeated often in the actions of Wilson, spurred on by fear and greed. Persy retells his story in chronological order: it’s easy to follow along as event A leads to B and so on. What makes the story relevant is the pain beneath the words, and Persy’s absolute tone of hopelessness as horrific event after event is recalled: with descriptions that bring instant pictures to mind, as the time is instantly accessible.
While often stories of the Civil War focus on the changes to the ‘southern way of life’, the loss of life and emancipation. But what Peacock does that surprised (effectively) is add additional moments with other groups who were effected (positively and negatively) by these changes, the migrations westward to avoid the grasp of the Union army and the anti-slavery laws. The Comanche and other aboriginal tribes - brutally pushed westward away from land and places they’ve known for millennia. The insertion of their reactions, the persecution and even Persy’s acceptance into the tribes and this juxtaposition of refined versus savage.
A slow ride from the external belief that Persy is a thing that is owned for a purpose, to his own realization of his personhood just as his existence is to end hanging from a noose, the story is rich and evocative, bringing into sharp relief the ability of humans to behave in reprehensible ways toward those viewed as “less than” or “different”, all in attempts to serve their own ends for success, power or superiority.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.