It’s 1959 in socialist Virginia. The Deep South is an independent Black nation called Nova Africa. The second Mars expedition is about to touch down on the red planet. And a pregnant scientist is climbing the Blue Ridge in search of her great-great grandfather, a teenage slave who fought with John Brown and Harriet Tubman’s guerrilla army.
Long unavailable in the U.S., published in France as Nova Africa, Fire on the Mountain is the story of what might have happened if John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry had succeeded—and the Civil War had been started not by the slave owners but the abolitionists.
Hugo Award-winning Bisson's novel looks at an alternative North America in which John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry is a success and the South becomes a separate nation with an African majority. Told through the journals of the former slave Dr. Abraham, who witnessed Brown's raid, letters of the abolitionist Thomas Hunter, and the life of Abraham's great grand-daughter Yasmin Odinga, whose story is set in the 1950s, Bisson offers a complex view of a world which inexplicably leads to technological achievement far beyond that which occurred in our own history. All of Bisson's characters come to life and present their understanding of the world around them-although not always accurately. In addition to the focus on the aftermath of Brown's raid, Odinga's story revolves around her personal issues, including her fractured relationship with her daughter, and the very public loss of her husband. The 19th and 20th century storylines don't completely mesh, with little to indicate how the changes introduced by Brown's success would result in Odinga's world of the 1950s. Civil War buffs and alternate history fans will both enjoy the proposals Bisson advances, even if he doesn't provide the necessary extrapolation.