New York, NY: Harper Collins (2015) As new in dust jacket.
The year is 1855. Blackface minstrelsy is the most popular form of
entertainment in a nation about to be torn apart by the battle over
slavery. Henry Sims, a fugitive slave and a brilliant musician, has
escaped to Philadelphia, where he earns money living
by his wits and performing on the street. He is befriended by James
Douglass, leader of a popular minstrel troupe struggling to compete with
dozens of similar ensembles, who imagines that Henry’s skill and
magnetism might restore his troupe’s sagging fortunes.
The problem is that black and white performers are not allowed to
appear together onstage. Together, the two concoct a masquerade to
protect Henry’s identity, and Henry creates a sensation in his first
appearances with the troupe. Yet even as their plan
begins to reverse the troupe’s decline, a brutal slave hunter named
Tull Burton has been employed by Henry’s former master to track down the
runaway and retrieve him, by any means necessary.
Bursting with narrative tension and unforgettable characters, shot through with unexpected turns and insight,A Free State is a thrilling reimagining of the American story by a novelist at the height of his powers.