“This is a truly character-driven novel that explores how people define themselves, the creation of family and home, and the importance of memory and language. . . . Fans of historical epics won’t be able to put this book down.”—Historical Novel Society
“Emotionally satisfying. . . . A remarkable character portrait.”—Publishers Weekly
The author of The Secret Women tells the story of a brave and enduring woman as indomitable as Ernest Gaines’ legendary Miss Jane Pittman, in a breathtaking novel that combines the epic romance and adventure of Outlander, the sweeping drama of Roots, and the haunting historical power of Barracoon.
Things Past Telling is a remarkable historical epic that charts one unforgettable woman’s journey across an ocean of years as vast as the Atlantic that will forever separate her from her homeland.
Born in West Africa in the mid-eighteenth century, Maryam Prescilla Grace—a.k.a “Momma Grace” will live a long, wondrous life marked by hardship, oppression, opportunity, and love. Though she will be “gifted” various names, her birth name is known to her alone. Over the course of 100-plus years, she survives capture, enslavement by several property owners, the Atlantic crossing when she is only eleven years of age, and a brief stint as a pirate’s ward, acting as both a spy and a translator.
Maryam learns midwifery from a Caribbean-born wise woman, whose “craft” combines curated techniques and medicines from African, Indigenous, and European women. Those midwifery skills allow her to sometimes transcend the racial and class barriers of her enslavement, as she walks the razor’s edge trying to balance the lives and health of her own people with the cruel economic mandates of the slave holders, who view infants born in bondage not as flesh-and-blood children but as investment property.
Throughout her triumphant and tumultuous life Maryam gains and loses her homeland, her family, her culture, her husband, her lovers, and her children. Yet as the decades pass, this tenacious woman never loses her sense of self.
Inspired by a 112-year-old woman the author discovered in an 1870 U.S. Federal census report for Ohio, loosely based on the author’s real-life female ancestors, spanning more than a hundred years, from the mid-eighteen-century to the end of America’s Civil War, and spanning across the globe, from what is now southern Nigeria to the islands of the Caribbean to North America and the land bordering the Ohio River, Things Past Telling is a breathtaking story of a past that lives on in all of us, and a life that encompasses the best—and worst—of our humanity.
The resilience of family and the importance of memory loom large in this emotionally satisfying tale from Williams (The Secret Women) , inspired by the life of an African woman who lived to be 112. Maryam Priscilla Grace never forgets her home in Edo after she's kidnapped at 10, in 1769, and taken across the ocean. Before the ship can off-load its captives in Savannah, the pirate Caesar seizes it and frees all those onboard. Caesar brings Maryam to his home off the coast of Florida, where she remains with his family for five years and learns the practice of midwifery. Then, after a British vessel captures Caesar's ship when Maryam is with him on a raid, she's sold to a Virginia plantation owner. She works primarily as a midwife, but is forced out to the fields whenever she's not tending a patient. Maryam meets James, enslaved on a neighboring farm, and the two marry in 1781 and raise two sons, though James and the boys are later sold to pay off a debt, setting in motion a series of harrowing changes in her life over which she has little control. Facing heartbreaking compromises as she starts a new family, and life-threatening dangers while helping runaways, Maryam nevertheless doesn't give up on recreating her lost family. Throughout, Williams offers vivid descriptions and sticks to the historical timeline without making the narrative feel didactic. It's a remarkable character portrait.