A New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2021 and Best Historical Fiction Pick
A Best Book of the Year: Washington Post, TIME, Los Angeles Times, and Christian Science Monitor
“A stunning look at what freedom really means.” —The New York Times
Coming of age in a free Black community in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson is all too aware that her mother, a physician, has a vision for their future together: Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to be independent? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her light-skinned mother, she will not be able to pass for white. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises a better life on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.
Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States, critically acclaimed and Whiting Award–winning author Kaitlyn Greenidge returns with an unforgettable and immersive novel that will resonate with readers eager to understand our present through a deep, moving, and lyrical dive into our past.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Author Kaitlyn Greenidge’s second novel is based on the true story of the first Black female physician in New York, who lived and worked in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn. But instead of centering this historical novel around the trailblazing doctor, Greenidge focuses on her free-spirited daughter, Libertie, who doesn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Libertie is fascinated by music and poetry, and aspires to find love and start a family. When she marries a Haitian man and moves with him to his home country, she thinks she’ll be truly free from her domineering mother’s influence and from the racism of her home country. But instead, she finds that sexism, classism, and colorism are all at play in Haiti. Greenidge meticulously researched the era and weaves together fascinating historical details to create an intimate, uplifting story that explores all the contours of freedom. Her novel couldn’t be more relevant today.
Greenidge (We Love You, Charlie Freeman) delivers another genius work of radical historical fiction. Libertie Sampson, a freeborn Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, is pushed by her mother, a doctor, to follow in her footsteps. But Libertie, whose day-to-day experience differs from her mother due to her darker skin, is more interested in music and wants to follow her own path. In her poetic narration, she gives testimony to the injustices of white supremacy she witnesses and reflects on colorism, "colorstruck" misogyny, and the potential shackles of marriage, all the while turning over the question of what freedom is. When her mother insists on treating the same white women who recoil at Libertie's dark skin, she believes her mother "gave up co-conspirators for customers." Desperate to secure a future for Libertie, her mother sends her off to Cunningham College in Ohio, but Libertie turns away from her studies after she meets fellow students Experience and Louisa: "When I sang with them, my whole history fell away. There was no past, no promised future, only the present of one sustained note." After Libertie is kicked out of Cunningham, she schemes to bring Experience and Louisa to Brooklyn and sing for the Black community. But her road gets rockier, and a marriage proposal from a Haitian man brings mixed blessings, leading her to continue reflecting on the limits of freedom for a Black woman. This pi ce de r sistance is so immaculately orchestrated that each character, each setting, and each sentence sings.