Born a slave in 1790 in the Virginia Panhandle Sarah, a beautiful woman, marries a supposedly free Negro, Lewis, whom she hopes will earn her freedom. Her husband is taken back to Kentucky from where he escaped and Sarah is sold to a neighbour who mistreats her. She is forced to escape with her three youngest children through the Ohio wilderness and arrives in Simcoe, Upper Canada in 1822. She keeps house for a young Scotsman, Duncan Campbell, by whom she has a son. As Simcoe grows from a village to a prosperous town under Campbell's leadership, Sarah and her children flourish as does the growing black community of escaped slaves. Her son-in-law, George Smith or the Black Pimpernel, who helps her older black children escape to Canada, carries on his work for the Underground from Simcoe. Faced with many challenges, including American invasion and the reintroduction of slavery at the time of the Canadian rebellion, Sarah Lewis shows courage and resourcefulness. Sarah's Journey is not just escape to freedom but an adventurous passage through life. Her son by Duncan Campbell, hides his background and becomes one of the richest men in New York City; his untimely death leads to the discovery of his mother's story.
Reviewed by Grietje R. McBride, UE, B.Sc.
This book joins a growing number of really well researched historical fiction covering the Revolutionary period in North America. While the backbone of the book recounts the believable story of a black slave escaping from the oppressive and inhuman slavers in the southern states, the feature of this historical novel is the number of social and political hot spots that it skilfully deals with while following Sarah's life story. Those readers who have a passing knowledge of issues leading to the Civil War in 1865 will appreciate how the politics at the time influenced people supporting or using Sarah and her family. The forces of change favouring the factory labour economy of the North over the slave-based economy of the South are revealed through the actions of the main characters in this novel. The laws passed against slavery encouraged by the abolitionists in both countries and the Wilberforce society in Canada illustrate how the fledgling country struggled to have an effect against the prejudices and greed in a closed and narrow-minded society. As Beasley reveals through the living example of his characters, discrimination defined itself along lines of colour, not slave versus free. Through Sarah's life, vicariously, Beasley reveals how policies of the nineteenth century so vainly tried to defend the rights of slaves. Without preaching, this book balances historical content and fiction and comes out on top. Written in the currently popular style of chapter by chapter flip-flops of plot lines, this book can't help but captivate the reader's attention from start to finish. Sometimes the author allows us to follow Sarah like the proverbial fly on the wall. Sometimes we learn more about her through what her family members say or do around her. Skillfully, as if reading the diaries of Sarah and all her family members, the reader learns not just the bare, cold facts, but the emotional depth of Sarah's character as well and can identify with her pain and jubilation at life events. Again this novel rises above the fault of many historical novels in that the characters have depth and personality. The author steers clear of moralizing and judging the lives of the female characters who he spends more time with as the novel progresses. We, the readers, therefore learn a lot more about the lives and desires of the daughters of slaves than their sons. Another thing that I like about this novel in particular is that the author has spent some time with choice of words. It has been a long time since I have read a novel with vocabulary that is stimulating. I would recommend this novel to mature readership at the high school level or above because of the increased degree of appreciation of the story if one is acquainted with the social and economic and political issues surrounding and shaping the environment into which Sarah was born.
REVIEW BY Liana Metal - Rambles.net
David Beasley writes fiction and nonfiction. Sarah's Journey is set in the United States and Canada in the 1800s. Sarah, a half-negro girl, is born into slavery in Virginia but flees in 1820 to freedom in Canada, where there is no slavery. The story starts when Sarah is 16 years old and follows her life to her death in upper Canada. As the story unfolds, Sarah encounters the violent face of racism that marks her life as a slave and later on as a free woman. She has a lot of children, many of whom are white. What is going to happen to them? Are they going to be regarded as slaves forever? Sarah is a heroine of admirable courage and spirit whose saga is inspiring and positive. She overcomes the difficulties in her life with optimism and helps other people cope with their lives. The author has managed to depict a real-life character in the most skillful way and make the readers identify with the plight of Sarah, who is struggling to gain the privileges she was denied. This story is a document against racial prejudice and is based on real events and characters. The author's views on racism are echoed in many parts of the story such as these quotes: "If blackness was a stigma in society then she would bring up her children as whites," and "They think of black and slavery together now." Although it is a historical novel it is by far very different from the other novels of this kind as it presents a historical account worth reading. Sarah's Journey is a real page-turner. The reader follows Sarah's life step by step and is curious to know what happens next; once started, this novel will be read from cover to cover. The novel includes elements of romance and mystery and a lot of adventure to keep the readers' interest intact. The writing style is rich and complex at times, yet simple and easy to read by all kinds of readers. It caters to a wide readership but those who are keen on historical novels will love it best. _____________________________________________________________________
Tale of slave earns author Literary Award
Simcoe author David Beasley has won the Hamilton Literary Award
for the best novel of 2004.
Beasley's Sarah's Journey was selected from among 59 entries in the competition
sponsored by the Hamilton and Region Arts Council as a winner in the novel category.
The story of a Virginia slave who escapes to Simcoe in 1822 has attracted notice in
both literary and historical circles. For like 'Sarah's Journey', his impressive body of
work, both fiction and non-fiction, is characterized by impeccable and comprehensive
research. Nor surprising, since his career has included a lenghty stint as a research
librarian in New York City. He also has a PhD in economics.
A prolific author, Beasley is largely self-published through his own Davus Publishing.
That's why winning the Hamilton is particularly satisfying.
"Major awards like the Giller won't accept self-published books", he said.
Being self-published also means that promotion of his works are a necessity.
"You've got to do it", he said. "Word of mouth does'nt do it".
Except perhaps for 'Sarah's Journey' which has had a number of printings and has been
well received critically and publicly.
Chris Thomas - Simcoe Reformer