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A SITTING IN ST. JAMES by Rita Williams-Garcia Kirkus Star


by Rita Williams-Garcia

Pub Date: May 25th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-06-236729-7
Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

An unblinking view into plantation life in the Deep South.

At first glance this epic seems to be focused on the ups and downs of the Guilbert family, slaveholders living in the Louisiana parish of St. James whose legacy is protected by 80-year-old matriarch Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert. However, Williams-Garcia doesn’t stop in the salons and sitting rooms; she brings readers into the cabins and cookhouses of enslaved people whose perceived invisibility gives them access to ideas and knowledge that empower them in ways that few fiction writers have examined. Sixteen-year-old Thisbe is the personal servant to Madame Guilbert—treated like a pet and beaten with a hairbrush for the smallest alleged slight. Her narrative to liberation is intricately webbed within the story of the Guilberts. Thisbe’s silence helps her acquire the language to affirm her humanity to those who would deny it. With a cast of characters whose assorted genealogies feel like an ode to the mixing of peoples and cultures in Louisiana, this story broadens and emboldens interrogations of U.S. chattel slavery. Williams-Garcia’s meticulous research processes shout volumes about the importance of taking contemporary inspiration into the archives to unearth sorely needed truths as we continue to navigate questions of equity and justice for the descendants of enslaved people.

A marathon masterpiece that shares a holistic portrait of U.S. history that must not be dismissed or forgotten.

(author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 15-adult)