Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Purchase

A fascinating book written by a fascinating woman!
Linda Spalding was born in Topeka Kansas,
 the daughter of Jacob Alan Dickinson. 

 She has lived in Mexico and Hawaii
 and moved to Toronto in 1982.  
She is married to Michael Ondaatje.

Linda's father, a lawyer, was a champion of integration and worked on desegregating schools.  So it was a great surprise when Linda realized that her ancestors had owned slaves.
Also, Linda had been interested in her early years in Quakerism.  Her parents were not pleased, but she also discovered that her ancestors were Quakers.
How did this happen?  Quakers who owned slaves?  So she began her research.  The novel is based on her great, great, great grandfather, Daniel Dickinson.

I have read this book twice.  The first time I finished the book, wishing that I could discuss it with someone, but I did not know anyone who had read it.  This time I am reading it for a book club, so will have lots of opportunity to discuss it.
In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, a young Quaker father and widower, left his home in Pennsylvania to begin a new life in Virginia.  He had five children and a 15-year-old wife that he married after his wife died.  This young girl, Ruth, is an important part of the story, as she had lived in an almshouse until Daniel brought her to help with his children.
The story is really set in motion when Daniel attends an auction and accidentally raises his hand when they are selling a slave boy- Onesimus.  He does not have the money for the boy, nor does he believe in slavery.  So how did that happen? 
 I found the first half of the story mesmerizing.  The challenge of creating a home for seven people from nothing! Fascinating!  And so well-written!
However, the strong narrative began to fragment when the children grew up and each had struggles and disasters. More characters were added and the strong thread of the story began to unravel.
Daniel is a very disappointing character, who preaches the Quaker doctrine, but shows no love or compassion or forgiveness.  He struggles with his conscience and perhaps finds resolution in the end.  But I found the ending as evasive as the slave auction.  I never really understood Daniel- or maybe I did and I didn't like him.
Well, now I have been to a discussion of this book and I am less enthusiastic about the book.  There was a range of interest in the book but we seemed to agree that the author is better at describing nature than people.  There is a great sense of place but what are the characters thinking? And especially the main characters, Daniel and his child-wife Ruth. What were they thinking?  
Lots of plot, lots of characters, but what were they thinking??????

1 comment:

  1. Again you've saved me the time of reading a "dud"!