Long Way from Home

Long Way from Home

4.7 7
by Connie Briscoe

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A moving tour de force'a multigenerational storyof slavery, separation, freedom, and the indestructible bonds of love and family'from Connie Briscoe,New York Times bestselling author of Sisters and Loversand Big Girls Don't Cry.

Spanning more than sixty years, A Long Way from Home is thestory of Susie; her daughter, Clara; and her granddaughter, Susan'house slaves


A moving tour de force'a multigenerational storyof slavery, separation, freedom, and the indestructible bonds of love and family'from Connie Briscoe,New York Times bestselling author of Sisters and Loversand Big Girls Don't Cry.

Spanning more than sixty years, A Long Way from Home is thestory of Susie; her daughter, Clara; and her granddaughter, Susan'house slaves born and reared at Montpelier, the Virginia plantation of President James Madison. Proud and intelligent, these women are united by love, fierce devotion, and a desire for freedom that grows stronger year by year.

A Long Way from Home vividly re-creates Southern life andthe ambivalent, shifting relationships on both sides of the color divide, from the cruelty and insidious benevolence of white owners to the deep yearnings and complex emotions of the slaves themselves. It is an unforgettable story that pays homage to the African-American experience and to the ancestors whose lives and histories are indelibly entwined with our own."A sweeping,

"A wonderful read!...Connie Briscoe provides a fascinating peek inside the world of a proud family that refuses to let the turbulent times in which theylive destroy their dreams for happiness and freedom. The strong women who leap from the pages of her book are unforgettable...readers will cheer for them."(— Anita Richmond Bunkley, author of Girlfriends)

"Connie Briscoe vividly evokes the joys of love and family, and the pain of separation and bondage. A Long Way from Home is a wonderful celebration of strength and perseverance, and a brilliant song of hope." (— E. Lynn Harris, New York Times bestselling author of Abide with Me)

"Connie Briscoe joyfully honors her family, herself and all of us in this wonderful homage to the resilience and courage of the people who made her the woman and writer she is. A Long Way from Home is a book for everyone and especially anyone who knows that at the beginning and in the end, we are all joined by the same story."(— Marita Golden, author of The Edge of Heaven)

"An engaging and warm story about African Americans in our struggle for dignity and a rightful place in the fabric of the nation. It is also about survival, and the healing power of love and forgiveness. A rich and wonderful read."(— Sandra Kitt, author of Girlfriends)

"Tragedy, triumph and female bonding among three generations of amazing women, all in page-turning detail." (—MADEMOISELLE)

"If Margaret Mitchell had imagined Scarlett O'Hara as a slave instead of a plantation belle, this semi-epic novel of the South might have been the result."(—ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY)

"Briscoe's novel is a historical romance that falls somewhere between Zora Neale Hurston's THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD and Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND." ( --THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD )

"A sweeping, powerful saga of slavery and family heritage." (—BOSTON HERALD)

"A heartfelt tribute to loyalty and endurance." (—NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Briscoe (Big Girls Don't Cry) reconstructs her family history in this dense and plot-driven tale. Daughter of a chambermaid and of a driver at a neighboring property, 10-year-old Clara is a house slave at retired president James Madison's Montpelier plantation. When "massa" dies, the rhythm of their lives is disrupted, and Madison's stepson's poor management throws Montpelier into chaos, leading to its inevitable sale to new owners. Soon afterward, Clara gives birth to daughters Ellen and Susan, but will tell them their only that their father is white. They adjust to a series of owners over several years, but the family is fractured when Ellen runs away and Susan is bought as a gift for Lizbeth, the daughter of Mr. Willard, a wealthy Richmond banker and former Montpelier owner who is connected to Susan's past. Off the plantation for the first time, Susan is sometimes mistaken for white in public, giving her a glimpse of the complicated freedom of "passing." She meets and eventually marries Oliver Armistead, a respected free black, amid the rumblings of impending civil war. After the war, the Willards are left in financial ruin, and so agree to let Susan leave Richmond with Oliver. Only then can she answer the mysteries of her paternity and discover the fate of her scattered family. Briscoe's characters, especially Susan, are largely appealing, and the novel's extended chronology is informative. While the book's conclusion is unsurprising, its author's personal exploration of her family's history (Susan is Briscoe's great-great-grandmother) is able historical fiction, although character development is sacrificed to a panoramic view. 150,000 first printing; $350,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This historical novel follows a family of slaves living in Virginia from the antebellum period to after the Civil War. It focuses on Susan, who grows up on a country plantation but is sold to a new master in Richmond. The separation from her family and familiar surroundings is painful, as is the adjustment to life in the city. Although she is treated better, she is still unable to fulfill her own dreams. Then she meets and falls in love with Oliver, a free black man, but their newfound freedom is tempered by personal tragedies and the difficulties blacks faced in the postwar South. The main characters are real people discovered during the author's investigations into her own ancestry. Reader Audra McDonald ably expresses the sadness of separation, the moments of joy, and the frustration of not being in control of one's own fate. Recommended for public library fiction collections.--Catherine Swenson, Norwich Univ. Lib., Northfield, VT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
In a disappointing third novel, the bestselling author of Big Girls Don't Cry (1996), etc., draws on her family's history in a story about slavery, miscegenation, and the Civil War. The aim is worthy, but Briscoe never follows through on events or fully explores her characters, who remain curiously sealed off from one another and the times they live in. The story begins in the last years of James Madison's life, out of office and living at Montpelier, where house-slave Susan works as a housekeeper, aided by ten-year old daughter Clara. As she grows up, Clara describes her increasing anger with whites and her hatred of slavery. Following Madison's death, Dolley Madison's wastrel son Todd, deeply in debt, sells many of the slaves as well as Montpelier. Clara stays on under the succession of white masters, one of whom fathers her two daughters, Ellen and Susan (the author's great-great grandmother) who are fair enough to pass as white. Curiously, Clara never explains the circumstances or names the man. When yet another master takes over, daughter Susan is sold to a Mr. Willard, a rich banker in Richmond whom Susan recognizes as the white man who gave her pennies when she was a child. She also looks like his daughters, Lizbeth and Ellen, but nothing is said or thought about this curious circumstance. As Susan becomes part of the household, looking after Lizbeth's children and falling in love with freed slave Oliver Armistead, the Civil War begins. Susan and Oliver marry, but he's taken away to man the defenses of Richmond and she must live with the Willard family, which continues to be self-absorbed and terminally stupid. Even when the War ends, they don't seem to grasp its implications,but Susan, realizing now that she's free, is reunited with Oliver and heads to the Tidewater to make a new home and life. Heartfelt, but a thin and unsatisfying take on a weighty and still urgent subject. (First printing of 150,000, $350,000 ad/promo, author tour)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.26(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Clara sat up on the edge of her pallet and rubbed her eyes with her fists. She could tell it was awfully late by the way the morning shadows fanned across the attic floor. Mama had been up long before the shadows, and by now she would be running around the mansion lighting fires, emptying chamber pots, and fetching fresh water from the well for Mass Jimmy and Miss Dolley and all the folks who always seemed to be visiting them. And if Mama knew her daughter's fanny was still lolling on a pallet way past dayclean, she would go into another one of her yelling fits. Clara just hated it when Mama got to fussing.

Still, it was awful hard to get moving. She had started having chores to do at dayclean when she turned ten almost a year ago, but she wasn't yet used to this getting up before the sun did. Sometimes she thought she'd never get used to it. She wiggled her bare toes and stretched her lips with a yawn until she thought her mouth would burst at the corners. She would just take a quick peek out the window before getting dressed, she thought. She stood and made her way across the plank floor, then pushed the shutters open and leaned out.

To the north, rows of pine trees lined a path leading to the small temple over the ice house. On the other end, a deer browsed near a weeping willow, and a few sheep grazed nearby as Ralph, a boy about Clara's age, appeared from around the side of the mansion. He was leading one of the horses to the gate, probably for a guest who wanted to take an early morning ride on the grounds of the estate. Suddenly, the deer raised its head and leaped away.

Clara took a deep breath and filled her lungs with the scent of rosesand jasmine drifting up from the gardens. She loved this spot at the very top of the mansion, for she could see clear across the lawn and over the treetops to the peaks of the Blue Ridge mountains. The plantation stretched out before her was small compared to the grand estates along the James River, but it was still considered by many to be the finest in the Piedmont area of Virginia. After all, this was Mont-pelier, the home of James Madison, former president of the United States, and his wife Dolley. And for the lucky few like the Madisons, it was a time of pillared mansions, velvet ball gowns, and gilded carriages, of Southern ladies entertaining in Persian-carpeted drawing rooms and gentlemen galloping freely across their vast estates.

But seeds of change were sprouting throughout the Virginia countryside, and Clara often overheard white grownups talking about the glories of the old days. Good land was harder to come by now, fields were overcultivated, and there were simply too many slaves. Whites bitterly recalled the days, only a few years earlier, when a slave preacher named Nat Turner held the citizens of Virginia in terror as he led a band of angry men through the countryside killing every white in sight. By the time they caught Nat Turner and hanged him that November of 1831, more than fifty whites lay dead. It was one of the bloodiest insurrections in American history, and it had happened right there on Virginia's soil.

Colored folks talked about that time, too, but usually with more awe than anger. For them, these had been long days of retrenching freedoms, of women and men toiling from dayclean to daylean, and of dreams dying in the dark.

The horse neighed, and Clara snapped out of her reverie and looked down below. One of Miss Dolley's nieces walked down the gravel path in front of the mansion and mounted the horse as Ralph and now Ben and Abraham steadied the animal and handed the reins to her.

Clara closed the shutters, then ran back to her pallet and squeezed her feet into the hard leather and cardboard shoes lying on the floor. She looked down and tried hard to wiggle her toes. No such luck. They were her first pair of shoes, and Mama insisted she wear them, as all the other house slaves did. But the things were so dratted stiff, it felt like she was wearing rugs on her feet. How did Mama expect her to be able to run and skip and jump? Clara supposed she had the answer to that. If Mama had her way, her daughter's carefree days were over. Clara belonged in the big house now, Mama said, doing her chores. And for that, she had to look respectable; she had to wear shoes.

She sighed and pulled her dress over her head. She was extra gentle with the dress as she buttoned it at the collar. Mama had made it for her eleventh birthday, with new muslin fabric from Miss Dolley. Even though the special day was two months away, Mama let her wear it now, since most of her other dresses were getting too small. Mama said she was growing faster than a weed in a vegetable garden.

She smoothed the dress around her legs and looked down at the shoes once again. She wrinkled her caramel-colored nose with disgust, kicked the shoes off, and placed them side by side next to the pallet. There, she thought, stretching her toes on the plank floor. That felt more like it. Mama would get mad if she caught her walking around barefoot, so she would have to stay out of Mama's sight. Probably a good idea, anyhow, since Mama was sure to make her do her chores if she caught her, and she had other fun things in mind.

Clara ran down the back stairs to the second floor of the mansion, then stopped and peeked around the corner. Even though she was supposed to use the back stairs all the way down, she was less likely to run into Mama if she used the main stairs.

Meet the Author

Connie Briscoe lives in Falls Church, Virginia. She is a descendant of the slaves on the Madison family plantation.

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A Long Way from Home 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I remember reading this book when it was first released and it stuck to me for quite some time. I have thoroughly enjoyed her previous books at the time which were ¿Sisters and Lovers¿ and ¿Big Girls Don't Cry¿ but 'A Long Way From Home¿ honestly touched me the most. This book was so entertaining I could not stop reading! It was a joy to read even though I felt heartache for the characters during their dark times. This book consists of three generations of women whom are, first of all, survivors. They are strong, courageous and trapped in a nearly-hopeless situation. Overworked and sleep deprived, the women have to watch out for all kinds of hazards -- including the possibility of rape. Susie, a house slave, has to be very strict on her young daughter Clara should Clara not please the owners with her work, she could be punished, sold or forced to work in the fields -- an even harsher life. Clara, in turn, continues this practice with her two daughters. Briscoe writes about her own ancestors, using family stories handed down through the generations, research she's done, and an obvious love of the subject matter. She succeeds in weaving together a fascinating biography of sorts. It's a stirring account of the everyday lives of slaves in the South before and during the Civil War. Not many black authors write from a historical perspective. She also paid tribute to her ancestors by detailing the harshness and brutality that slaves often endured. A key point that was referenced in the book was the differences in mentality between the house slaves and the field hands. This book is destined to be a 'must' for Black History Month, but it is a wonderful read for anyone of any ethnic background. Of course, the Civil War brings on many changes, also documented in the book. When finally free, the former slaves still face many hardships, but their courage and tenacity wins out in the end. 'A Long Way From Home' is a moving account of the struggles of three strong women. You'll go away with a better understanding of, and with new respect for, what the blacks in the South had to endure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I totally enjoyed reading this novel! The characters were so real that it drew me into their world. One of the best book I've read besides Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so entertaining I could not stop reading! It was a joy to read even though I felt heartache for the characters during their dark times. I am now more informed of the way lives were lived during our country's time of slavery.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first read Sisters and Lovers, Connie Briscoe intrigued me, then I read Big Girls Don't Cry and I KNEW that I was a Briscoe fan. A couple of months ago I read PG County and that verified the fact! A Long Walk From Home was the 2nd to that verification! At first I thought the subject of slavery would bother me, but I found it EXTREMELY hard to put this one down! This is a WONDERFUL read! Actually, it made me appreciate the fact that I am even able to READ it! While reading you feel like you're DRAWN to the characters in the book, you REALLY begin to feel their pain, their anxiety, and their need for freedom! The personal tie in at the end, was just the icing on the cake! 'A Long Way From Home' wasn't that far from home for me...it touched me right in the heart! Hope others enjoy it as well!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a high school senior, and I have only read two books that were not required for school, but I cannot stop now because of this book. I bought it so that I could keep myself busy for the Winter Holiday Break (seeing how it was 400 pages long), but once I started I couldn't stop. I started to get upset because I had to go shopping but wanted so badly to know what was going to happen next. I finished the book in about 2 days. Now I am on Barnes and Nobles website searching for books with a similar theme. This was an excellent book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The characters in this book seem so real. This book would make a good gift.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I received this novel as a Cristmas present.. it turned out to be one of my favorite gifts !!! I truly enjoyed this novel... Connie is a gifted storyteller...