Free Enterprise

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This message was found on John Brown's body following his ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry. History books do not record the contribution of his mysterious collaborator, "M.E.P.," but in Free Enterprise, acclaimed novelist Michelle Cliff tells the remarkable story of frontier legend Mary Ellen Pleasant. In 1858, two black women meet at a restaurant and begin to plot a revolution. Mary Ellen Pleasant owns a string of hotels in San Francisco that cater to wealthy whites and secretly double as havens for runaway ...
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Overview

This message was found on John Brown's body following his ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry. History books do not record the contribution of his mysterious collaborator, "M.E.P.," but in Free Enterprise, acclaimed novelist Michelle Cliff tells the remarkable story of frontier legend Mary Ellen Pleasant. In 1858, two black women meet at a restaurant and begin to plot a revolution. Mary Ellen Pleasant owns a string of hotels in San Francisco that cater to wealthy whites and secretly double as havens for runaway slaves. Her comrade, Annie, is a young Jamaican who has given up her life of privilege to fight for the abolitionist cause. Together they join John Brown's doomed enterprise, and barely escape with their lives.

In 1858, two black women meet and later join John Brown's doomed raid on Harper's Ferry, barely escaping with their lives. Acclaimed author Michelle Cliff places an actual historical figure at the center of her powerful new novel, which brings to life the passionate struggle for liberation that began not long after the first slavers landed in Virginia.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An articulate writer with an alluring prose style, Cliff offers an absorbing tale of friendship, survival and courage. In 1858, a young girl flees Jamaica, escaping the overseer's bed and her mother's compliance, and renames herself Annie Christmas. She forms a lasting camaraderie with Mary Ellen Pleasant, an actual historical figure who was a wealthy black hotelier and activist in Boston. Annie and Pleasant plot to take part in John Brown's raid, but they never reach Harper's Ferry. The doomed raid marks each woman in a different way: Pleasant returns to San Francisco and continues her work for racial justice, but Annie, haunted by a secret, becomes a hermit living on the banks of the Mississippi River, contacting only other outcasts in a nearby leper colony. Cliff ( Abeng ) skillfully weaves oral testaments, letters, poems and colorful narrative to tell stories of French, English and Spanish enslavers and the African, Chinese, Indian and Hawaiian people they persecuted. With prismatic prose, she limns the portraits of her two protagonists--each with her own joys and troubles, who are bound by a common love for their people. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In her latest novel (after Abeng), the Jamaican-born Cliff attempts to create a web of fantasy, historical fiction, and legend as she relates the story of two black women and their fight for abolition. Mary Ellen Pleasant is a wealthy hotelier and activist who joins forces with Annie Christmas, a young woman who has escaped a dark fate in Jamaica. The two conspire to help John Brown in his raid on Harper's Ferry but never make it there. The novel traverses a range of locales, from the Caribbean and San Francisco, to Mississippi and Martha's Vineyard, and captures a m lange of voices, including wealthy politicians, runaway slaves, members of a leper colony, high-society West Indians, and abolitionists. The style can be lyrical ("Warm, sweet water, drawn from the hills where doctor birds slip their lancet bills into cups of orchids."), but, unfortunately, it overwhelms the story, which is thus fragmented. Nonetheless, this is recommended for collections developing African American literature.-Sofia A. Tangalos, SUNY at Buffalo Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
YA-The lives of American women in the mid 1800s and early 1900s are vividly portrayed in this challenging montage of stories that centers on two fictional collaborators in John Brown's failed raid. Mary Ellen Pleasant is a cigar-smoking feminist who rises above race and gender, escapes to San Francisco after Brown's defeat at Harper's Ferry, and continues to use her significant influence to work toward integration. Annie Christmas is a privileged Jamaican who flees her plantation home to join the Cause and is captured by a Confederate chain gang. Her spirit is broken, and after the war she retreats to the isolation of a leper colony. The struggles of other women are richly described in this brilliant mosaic of mystery and myth. Eccentric Alice Hooper, who would do nothing more for the Cause than apologize, provides insight into the wealthy society of the day as does the story of unstable Clover Adams, whose statue still weeps in a Washington cemetery. Not every reader will recognize the historical, artistic, and literary allusions, but those who put forth the effort will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of the history of feminism, racism, and civil rights.-Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452271227
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/1/1994
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

I. Annie Christmas 1
II. Plague 33
III. She Was a Friend of John Brown 67
IV. Tender Comrades 155
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