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Sapphire's Grave

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The debut of a major new talent, SAPPHIRE'S GRAVE tells the stories of several generations of African-American women, bringing their spirit and their sorrow to life with a power, sensitivity, and immediacy.

In 1749 in Sierra Leone, a woman of fierce dignity is captured and forced onto a slave ship. On the harrowing voyage to the Americas, she is beaten for her unrelenting will and staunch pride. When she arrives, she gives birth to a daughter who is called Sapphire because of the "black-blue-black" complexion she shares with her mother. Sapphire has also inherited her mother's strength and defiant spirit, and despite a life of poverty and opression, she grows up to mother several daughters of her own. Even when tragedy strikes and part of Sapphire dies, her strength gives rise to a legend that will sustain the women who follow her, "each carrying something of her mother, her grandmother, her aunts; each passing on to her own daughters blessing and cursing, the consequences of her own choosing.

Through the lives of Sapphire and her descendants, Hilda Gurley-Highgate not only creates a poignant and engrossing saga of black women in America, she brilliantly illuminates the meaning of roots and the links between women and their female ancestors, a tie that often appears tenuous, undefined, and distant, but is strong, palpable, and much closer than we imagine. Written in luminous prose, SAPPHIRE'S GRAVE is an astonishing work by an author poised to take the literary world by storm.

From the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Nov 18, 2002 – Gurley-Highgate makes her debut with an overplotted tale tracing the fortunes of a line of African-American women over two centuries. The story begins in 1749 with a defiant, unnamed woman kidnapped in Sierra Leone and sold as a slave in South Carolina. She gives birth to a daughter, Sapphire, who is sold at age five. Sapphire's life, like her mother's, consists of trials "that exceeded the limits of human tolerance" she is beaten and raped, and she develops a hardness and a rebellious streak that she passes on to her three daughters and their offspring. Sister, the last of Sapphire's descendants to be born a slave, finds herself struggling to raise two children while enduring the betrayals of a philandering husband after the Civil War. Her granddaughter, Vyda Rose, defiantly embraces prostitution and eventually commits suicide to avoid arrest for killing a white man in self-defense. Vyda Rose's daughter, Jewell, bucks tradition in another way: she has a child by a white lover. Her biracial daughter becomes an acclaimed artist, expressing the legacy of her forebears in her paintings and sculptures of women. The dramatic developments come fast and furious, but though some of the women's stories are affecting, the characters themselves are thinly drawn. Gurley-Highgate waxes lyrical about Sapphire's legacy ("in the blood and the spirit and the person of this child lived all of the ancestors; and the child's own spirit, rising, on great black wings bearing without shame the scarlet past"), but her hurried sketches don't allow for a nuanced examination of slavery's toll.

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Sapphire's Grave
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  • $12.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: Dec 24, 2002
  • Publisher: Crown/Archetype
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 256 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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