SHORTLISTED FOR THE ATWOOD GIBSON WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE 2023
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2023 AMAZON CANADA FIRST NOVEL AWARD COSMOPOLITAN'S 10 BEST HISTORICAL FICTION BOOKS OF 2023
'Fresh and propulsive . . . a testament to the power of story and a veneration of those whose tales are often forgotten' New York Times
Freedom, you can't get and bury, and keep it and keep it so it won't ever go away.
You got to swing your freedom like a club.
In 1859, deep in the forests of Canada, an elderly woman sits behind bars. She came to Dunmore via the Underground Railroad to escape enslavement, but an American bounty hunter tracked her down. Now she's in jail for killing him, and the fragile peace of Dunmore, a town settled by people fleeing the American south, hangs by a thread.
Lensinda Martin, a smart young reporter, wants to gather the woman's testimony before she can be condemned, but the old woman has no time for confessions. Instead she proposes a barter: a story for a story.
As the women swap stories - of family and first loves, of survival and freedom against all odds - Lensinda must face her past. And it seems the old woman may carry a secret that could shape Lensinda's destiny.
Travelling along the path of the Underground Railroad from the American South to British Canada, from the Indigenous nations around the Great Lakes, to the Black refugee communities of Canada, In the Upper Country is an unforgettable debut about the interwoven history of peoples in North America, slavery and resistance, and two women reckoning with the stories they've been given, and the ones they want to tell.
Thomas's mesmerizing debut explores freedom, family, and the interconnections between white, Black, and Indigenous communities in 1859 Canada. Lensinda Martin, a reporter for the Coloured Canadian newspaper, lives in the Black village of Dunmore, a stop on the Underground Railroad. One day, American bounty hunter Pelham Beall arrives in pursuit of six Kentucky fugitives from slavery who are staying with a farmer named Simeon. After one of them, an elderly woman named Cash, fatally shoots Beall, Simeon asks Lensinda to visit Cash in jail to ensure her explanation is recorded and shared. Cash proposes a bargain with Lensinda: she will tell the story of her life if Lensinda does the same. Though Lensinda, a self-professed "woman of little patience," is initially irked by the agreement, she's soon swept up in their exchange and the surprising links between their lives. Thomas amplifies the women's stories with excerpts from a collection of enslaved people's narratives obtained by Lensinda, while stories of Cash's Indigenous husband, John; Black Canadians during the War of 1812; and the American enslaved people who settled Dunmore add to the vivid tapestry. At once intimate and majestic, Thomas's ambitious work heralds a bright new voice.