"Passionate, dramatic, and uplifting" (Washington Post), Stand the Storm is an "evocative, historically rich" novel (Time) set among the free African American community of pre-Civil War Washington, DC.
Even though Sewing Annie Coats and her son, Gabriel, have managed to buy their freedom, their lives are still marked by constant struggle and sacrifice. Washington's Georgetown neighborhood, where the Coatses operate a tailor's shop and laundry, is supposed to be a "promised land" for former slaves but is effectively a frontier town, gritty and dangerous, with no laws protecting black people.
The remarkable emotional energy with which the Coatses wage their daily battles -- as they negotiate with their former owner, as they assist escaped slaves en route to freedom, as they prepare for the encroaching war, and as they strive to love each other enough -- is what propels Stand the Storm and makes the novel's tragic denouement so devastating.
Clarke returns with a bittersweet slavery-era saga, partially set like her smash 1999 Oprah-pick, River, Cross My Heart in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown. On Ridley Plantation in rural Maryland, Gabriel Coats picks up his mother Annie's seamstress skills with remarkable ease, but is sold at age 10 to established Georgetown tailor Abraham Pearl. For eight years, Gabriel works hard and keeps an eye on freedom for his family as the Washington abolitionist movement gains momentum. Master Ridley's nephew Aaron begins overseeing the tailoring shop, and Gabriel and Annie busily create sartorial masterpieces as war steadily approaches. By the time freedom becomes a reality, only a few of the Coatses emerge with their pride and abilities intact. Clarke gets the details emotional, political, domestic, religious right across the board and crafts complex and appealing characters. Her knowledge of the period and the novel's dense, deliberate narrative create a poignant story about the intricacies of human bondage and its dissolution, built around a family's unshakable faith in one another.
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Stand the Storm
What an excellent story. This book was well worth reading. I found myself part of the Coates life.