Book of the Little Axe

Book of the Little Axe

by Lauren Francis-Sharma

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Overview

A BOOKLIST EDITOR’S CHOICE BOOK OF THE YEAR

Ambitious and masterfully-wrought, Lauren Francis-Sharma’s Book of the Little Axe is an incredible journey, spanning decades and oceans from Trinidad to the American West during the tumultuous days of warring colonial powers and westward expansion.


In 1796 Trinidad, young Rosa Rendón quietly but purposefully rebels against the life others expect her to lead. Bright, competitive, and opinionated, Rosa sees no reason she should learn to cook and keep house, for it is obvious her talents lie in running the farm she, alone, views as her birthright. But when her homeland changes from Spanish to British rule, it becomes increasingly unclear whether its free black property owners—Rosa’s family among them—will be allowed to keep their assets, their land, and ultimately, their freedom.


By 1830, Rosa is living among the Crow Nation in Bighorn, Montana with her children and her husband, Edward Rose, a Crow chief. Her son Victor is of the age where he must seek his vision and become a man. But his path forward is blocked by secrets Rosa has kept from him. So Rosa must take him to where his story began and, in turn, retrace her own roots, acknowledging along the way, the painful events that forced her from the middle of an ocean to the rugged terrain of a far-away land.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

03/30/2020

Francis-Sharma (’Til the Well Runs Dry) delivers a satisfying and perceptive transnational family saga. In 1830 Montana, Victor Rose struggles to complete an Apsaalooke vision quest, while his best friend, Like-Wind, passes through their tribe’s initiation rite. Victor and his mother, Rosa Rendon, flee after Victor witnesses the drowning death of a young woman who’d spurned him for Like-Wind, to avoid potential suspicion. While traveling, Victor discovers the journal of Creadon Rampley, a hardworking young wanderer from the States seeking gold in Trinidad, in Rosa’s belongings. Here, the narrative flashes back to Rosa’s childhood in Trinidad as the daughter of a prosperous free black farmer and blacksmith. When the British seize control of the colony and attempt to edge out all non-European landowners, Rosa’s father takes desperate measures to keep the land, eventually settling on marrying Rosa’s sister Eve to Creadon. Back on the trail, Victor and Rosa run into trouble on their way to Kullyspell territory. Like-Wind, having reluctantly led two Frenchmen to Victor and Rosa, is killed by one of the Frenchmen during a fight with them as Victor defends Rosa from their sexual assault. Creadon’s writings and Rosa’s memories disclose a cascade of family secrets that explains how Rose and Creadon ended up in North America. In this masterly epic, the pleasure lies in piecing everything together. Agent: Victoria Sanders, Victoria Sanders & Assoc. (May)

From the Publisher

Praise for Book of the Little Axe


“They say the past is a foreign country but forget to mention that it's also wild. Book of the Little Axe reminds us. Ranging from Trinidad to the mountainous West, Lauren Francis-Sharma has woven an emotional, immediate, ambitious story of love and belonging. Rather than retell a story of first contact between native people and newcomers to the new world, Francis-Sharma has produced a deeply moving novel about the ways in which all of us have always been connected.”—David Treuer, author of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee


“From her gripping first sentence, Lauren Francis-Sharma draws her reader into her intoxicating tale of intrigue, love, conflict, and power struggle at a pivotal time in the histories of Trinidad and the western United States. Her research is meticulous, her prose seductive, her characters mesmerizing. Book of the Little Axe shines a bright light on the little-known connections between the Caribbean and the United States. Readers will find it almost impossible to put this book down.”—Elizabeth Nunez, author of Prospero’s Daughter and Even in Paradise


“A shimmering epic that forges new paths into the old territory of the American West. Brilliant and unforgettable. Book of the Little Axe is an astonishing journey.”—Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red


Book of the Little Axe is an epic novel that recreates the hybrid history of Native and African peoples during the era of American exploration and expansion. Lauren Francis-Sharma's care for her characters and skill with her subject shine through every page.”—Laila Lalami, author of The Other Americans


“Lauren Francis-Sharma has written one of those thrilling novels – so valuable and welcome – that adds (or better say restores) another strand to our national narrative. We’re all the richer for Book of the Little Axe.”—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Fortunes


Book of the Little Axe is epic in ambition and scope, a sweeping tale that illuminates pivotal historical periods in Trinidad and North America, and the links between them. This is also the story of a young man’s coming of age and a mother’s secrets and a family’s love in the face of violence. Lauren Francis-Sharma brings her characters and their tangled histories to life with tremendous precision and sensitivity. This is the work of a major voice, a brilliant talent.”—Laura van den Berg, award winning author of The Third Hotel


“[A] persuasively researched account so richly evocative of a relatively obscure corner of history as to make it seem almost phantasmagorical.”—Kirkus Reviews


“Francis-Sharma’s prose shines in this epic and propulsive historical novel that is set in Trinidad and the American West, and follows the life of Rosa Rendón, who is talented, bright, and fierce.”—Millions


“[A] satisfying and perceptive transnational family saga . . . In this masterly epic, the pleasure lies in piecing everything together.”—Publishers Weekly


“Francis-Sharma . . . offers fascinating characters across the broad sweep of the American continent at a time of great tumult, warring colonial powers, the spread of slavery, and expansion West. This is a compelling saga of family bonds, ambitions, and desires, all subject to the vagaries of powerful historical forces.”—Booklist (starred review)

“[A] satisfying and perceptive transnational family saga . . . In this masterly epic, the pleasure lies in piecing everything together.”—Publishers Weekly


“Francis-Sharma . . . offers fascinating characters across the broad sweep of the American continent at a time of great tumult, warring colonial powers, the spread of slavery, and expansion West. This is a compelling saga of family bonds, ambitions, and desires, all subject to the vagaries of powerful historical forces.”—Booklist (starred review)



Praise for ’Til the Well Runs Dry

The New York Times Sunday Book Review Shortlist

Black Caucus of the American Library Association 2015 Honor Book in Fiction

“As universally touching as it is original.”—New York Times

“Lauren Francis-Sharma turns the family drama on its ear with this lush, elegant epic.” —ESSENCE Magazine

“A saga ripe with heartbreak and joy . . . Francis-Sharma delivers a rich and satisfying debut on the ties of family, love, and culture.”―Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal

★ 04/01/2020

From the farms of Trinidad to the forests of the American West, the tale of Rosa Rendón is hard yet engrossing. Dark like her father, Demas, a free black man in that late 18th-century Spanish colony, Rosa was never embraced by her mother and siblings, nor did she accept the typically female role proposed for her. As her story comes out, interwoven with her later, and equally difficult, life in what is now Montana, the conflicts between white and black, man and woman, intensify. Several acts of violence culminate in Demas Rendón losing his farm and house, and Rosa fleeing the island for her life. She throws in her lot with the mysterious woodsman Creadon Rampley but later leaves him to become a wife to a Crow chief. Her son comes to struggle in the same way his mother did. The various strands of the story come together to illuminate how power and race can warp a life. VERDICT A sad, compelling novel about a woman of color who fights against society's expectation, Francis-Sharma's novel (after 'Til the Well Runs Dry) is an excellent choice for book groups. [See Prepub Alert, 12/9/19.]—W. Keith McCoy, Edison, NJ

Kirkus Reviews

2020-02-10
Another complex, unsung strand in the American story emerges in this historical epic set in two hostile environments near the hinge of the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is the mid-1790s, and while most of the world is undergoing convulsive transition, the Rendón family leads a relatively quiet existence on the island of Trinidad, where Demas, the family patriarch, owns and operates a farm and blacksmithing business. But life for free and propertied black people like the Rendóns is about to undergo major changes as Trinidad’s rule moves from Spanish to English. Rosa, Demas’ headstrong, fiercely intelligent daughter, simmers with restless energy and a yearning for freedom that can’t be contained by her family’s traditional expectations or by the condescension, at best, from the wealthy white colonists. The story of Rosa’s coming-of-age is interwoven with another narrative, set in the early 1830s, in which Rosa, now living in the northwestern United States and married to a Crow chief, is trying to help her son, Victor, recognize his potential as a man. How Rosa got from the Caribbean to the territorial badlands of a new American nation makes up the core of this ambitious work along with the personal "memberings" of Creadon Rampley, a drifter with an obscure past who'sdrawn to Trinidad in 1810 by the promise of gold. Francis-Sharma ('Til the Well Runs Dry, 2014) forges a persuasively researched account so richly evocative of a relatively obscure corner of history as to make it seem almost phantasmagorical. Still, as enchanting as Francis-Sharma's writing can be, especially in its re-creations of Trinidad and the characterizations of Rosa and her family, the book occasionally hits patches when too many complications and details clog its forward momentum. Sometimes you get impatient for the story to hurry back northward to the frisky, jaunty pace of Rosa and Victor’s harrowing adventures.

Some illuminating history and vivid set pieces emerge from a frustratingly cluttered narrative.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802129369
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 265,635
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

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