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A More Perfect Union

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Shortlisted   —Diverse Book Awards2021

Longlisted   —Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year2021

‘Ambitious, sweeping, unafraid of acknowledging the complexity of the times and guaranteed to leave you welling up, this is storytelling at its finest.’—Francesca Brown, Stylist

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BBC Radio 2 Book Club choice
The Times Best Books for October
Stylist Best New Books
The Purrfect Read Favourite Books of 2020: Honorable Mentions
Secret World of a Book 2020 Recommended Reads

This extraordinary debut novel heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in Black women’s writing. It is an interracial love story set in pre-Civil War America, and inspired by the true story of the author’s great-great grandparents. Along with love and race, it touches on themes of identity, sacrifice, belonging and survival.

Henry O’Toole sails to America in 1848 to escape poverty and famine in Ireland, only to find anti-Irish prejudice awaiting him. Determined never to starve again, he changes his surname to Taylor and heads south to the state of Virginia, seeking work as a travelling blacksmith on the prosperous plantations.

Sarah is a slave. Torn from her family and sold to Jubilee Plantation, she must navigate the hierarchy of her fellow slaves, the whims of her white masters, and now the attentions of the mysterious blacksmith.

Fellow slave Maple oversees the big house with bitterness and bile, and knows that a white man’s attention spells trouble. Given to her half-sister as a wedding present by their white father, she is set on being reunited with her husband and daughter, at any cost.

Research included contemporary slave narratives (printed to further the abolitionist cause), digitally remastered audio recordings of former slaves, legislation on the question of slavery in the mid-19th century, historical texts on the Irish famine and first-hand accounts of English visitors to Ireland at the time, the writings of Charles Trevelyan (responsible for famine relief under Peel and Russell), historical texts on the antebellum South, and visits to the historically preserved Jubilee Plantation in Virginia on which the novel’s plantation is based.

Ben Williams 2020 Fiction Picks, Turnaround UK

14 December 2020

It’s not every day that the story of how your great-great grandparents met makes for such good reading. But that is the case for Tammye Huf, whose riveting historical romance A More Perfect Union is based on just that. Here we are introduced to Henry O’Toole, an Irish immigrant who flees the Great Famine to make a life in America, and Sarah, a Black slave, torn from her family and made to toil on a Virginia plantation. A BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick, Tammye’s simple but elegant prose spins a heartfelt tale of love and desperation, and what it means to lose your freedom.

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Best historical fiction for October 2020, The Times

In 1848 Henry O’Toole escapes famine-stricken Ireland for America. An itinerant blacksmith, he ends up at Jubilee Plantation in Virginia, where one of his jobs is making collars for the slaves. There he meets Sarah, a newly arrived house slave who has to deal with the dangerous demands and whims of her white masters as well as find her place in the pecking order of the slaves.

The house is run with a strict hand by her fellow slave Maple, the mixed-race daughter of a slave owner who gave her as a wedding present to her own half-sister, the wife of the owner of Jubilee. Maple has been forced to leave her husband and daughter behind at her father’s plantation, and her longing for them is viscerally described. Henry and Sarah fall tentatively in love, their interracial relationship a source of great disapproval and danger.

Tammye Huf’s powerful and convincing novel is based on the story of her great-great-grandparents.

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