Freeman, the new novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr., takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee's surrender, Sam - a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army - decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all "belonged".
At the same time, Sam's wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slave owner and Confederate officer.
The book's third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her father's dying wish.
At its core, Freeman is a love story - sweeping, generous, brutal, compassionate, patient - about the feelings people were determined to honor, despite the enormous constraints of the times. It is this aspect of the novel that should ensure it a strong, vocal, core audience of African-American women, who will help propel its likely critical acclaim to a wider audience. At the same time, this book addresses several themes that are still hotly debated today, some 145 years after the official end of the Civil War.
Like Cold Mountain, Freeman illuminates the times and places it describes from a fresh perspective, with stunning results. It has the potential to become a classic addition to the literature dealing with this period. Few other novels so powerfully capture the pathos and possibility of the era, particularly as it reflects the ordeal of the black slaves grappling with the promise - and the terror - of their new status as free men and women.
©2012 Leonard Pitts, Jr. (P)2012 Tantor
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Critic reviews

"In lyrical prose, Pitts unflinchingly and movingly portrays the period's cruelties, and triumphs in capturing the spirit of the times through eminently-identifiable lead characters." ( Publishers Weekly)
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4 out of 5 stars
By Chrissie on 24-04-13

After the Civil War

Too often people assume that when a war ends the trouble stops, the problems are over. That is far from true. It took over a century to begin to fix the Civil Rights problem that was supposedly resolved with the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865! This book is an excellent study on what life was like for the blacks in the years following the Civil War. This book is all about how the Dixie Southerners continued to view the colored. Views did not change overnight. It is also about how the blacks viewed themselves. What is freedom when you have no money and no employment and no place to live? What is freedom when you don’t know where your mother, father, wife and children are or even if they are still alive? What is freedom after rape and murder and repetitive beatings? How do you reach emotional stability after living through such horror? Can you forgive?

This book draws a picture that I believe to be accurate and realistic. It cannot be an easy read or a comforting read, but it ends with hope and a promise for the future. Parts were hard for me to read, and that is because the author made me care for the characters. Some were clever, others despicable, but all of them felt real.

I appreciated that both sides, the slave owners and the slaves, were portrayed fairly. One was not all wrong and the other all right. Even the most despicable were occasionally, well, at least not all bad!

I also liked how the plot unrolled. The author created a fascinating story that you want to understand. You want to know what is going to happen and how the problems will be resolved. At the end you understand everything. There are no loose ends, and I very much like the ending, being both realistic and hopeful too.

At first I was uncomfortable with the narration by Sean Crisden, but by the end I loved it. What bothered me at first was when he spoke lines presented in the third person. He stops at the periods and commas, and I felt he was listening to himself with a tone of self-satisfaction. However as you listen further, and as you become aware of each character’s personality, there are more and more dialogs and these are just perfect. He captures the Southern dialect and the Yankee dialect, the whites and the blacks, women and men and children, all equally well.

I will close with a quote from the book:

“You gotta have hope. To hope is the whole point. Being scared all the time ain’t much different from bein dead.”

There are good lines to suck on! I liked this book very much, and I highly recommend the audio format.

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18 of 19 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By B.J. on 07-07-13

Beware of spoilers in other reviews.

I made the mistake of scanning some reviews before downloading this book. There's a spoiler in one review that's hard to miss. It ended up really changing this book for me because it destroyed a plot line. I'm not sure how I would have felt about this book had I not spent the first half in anticipation.

I wanted to love this book, but didn't. I liked it very much but there was a predictability about it that kept me from loving it. The narrator wasn't stunning from the start, but the nuanced reading really captured the characters. In the end, it was a huge asset to the book. It's not the kind of reading that jumps out at you. Rather, it's subtle and works perfectly for this book.

Interesting that the end of war is really the beginning of upheaval in many instances. I'd never really thought about the implication of that when it came to the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865. This book provides insight into individual thinking/motivation when societal change is in the works. In that regard, it's excellent.

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34 of 38 people found this review helpful

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