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Free Enterprise: A Novel of Mary Ellen Pleasant
     

Free Enterprise: A Novel of Mary Ellen Pleasant

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by Michelle Cliff
 

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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 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

Overview

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 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.

With mesmerizing skill, Cliff weaves a multitude of voices into a gripping, poignant story of the struggle for liberation that began not long after the first slaves landed on America’s shores.

Michelle Cliff is the author of No Telephone to Heaven, among other books of fiction, and a forthcoming essay collection, Apocalypso. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA.

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780872864375
Publisher:
City Lights Books
Publication date:
09/01/2004
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
742,214
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

Meet the Author

Michelle Cliff was born in Jamaica and is the author of two previous novels, No Telephone to Heaven and Abeng; a collection of short stories, and two poetry collections. Her fiction, poetry, and esays have appeared in numerous publications, including Parnassus and the VLS.

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Free Enterprise: A Novel of Mary Ellen Pleasant 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
johnserr More than 1 year ago
I bought this book hoping to read a fictionalized account of Mammy Pleasant, who lived in San Francisco in the 19th Century. What I got instead was an unreadable mess, written by Michelle Cliff, who apparently believes that confusing the reader with unnecesary prolixity is good writing. Wading through her writing style is like walking through a bog with clogs. I don't know if the author believes that her writing is poetic or original, but it is simply a giant deterrent to the reader. I gave the book my best effort, but could not finish it. It is extremely umpleasant to be unable to get caught up in the story because of tripping over unnecesarily complicated sentences, isolated words that I belive are her way of trying to handle streams of consciousness and "cute" (another way of saying annoying) ways of saying things.