River Sing Me Home is a novel that makes me so proud to be a book blogger, giving me the privilege of sharing books that are captivating and beautiful, but also important. River Sing Me Home, the debut novel from Eleanor Shearer is exactly all that. I don’t say this lightly, but since I had the privilege of reading this novel in early December, it has stayed with me
Raw, emotional historical fiction, River Sing Me Home is the story of Rachel, a ‘former’ slave who searches for her five surviving children who were stolen from her and sold to other plantations. The story begins in August 1834 when the British Slavery Abolition Act came into force. Yet until reading this book, I never knew that this legislation that was supposed to give slaves their freedom, came with a massive and cruel caveat:
They were no longer slaves, but they were instead his apprentices. By law, they would work for him for six years. They could not leave. When the sun rose, Rachel and all the rest would be going back out to finish the planting. They would tend to the cane until the next harvest, and the harvest after. Six years of cutting and planting and cutting again.
Freedom was just another name for the life they had always lived.
Knowing that if she is caught, she will be brutally killed by her master even though she is supposed to be free, Rachel suddenly chooses to escape. It is not the hope of freedom that drives Rachel to make this dangerous decision, rather it is the all consuming love a mother has for her children that makes her run. Rachel escapes her life on the plantation to search for her lost children, Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane and Mercy.
Although she knows she will always be hunted by her master and his allies, and realising that she may discover devastating truths, Rachel’s search sweeps through the Caribbean, taking her from Barbados to New Guiana to Trinidad. As well as being an emotive read, it also a fascinating one as it powerfully portrays the unsettling history of the Caribbean.
The emotional and physical vulnerability of Rachel and the dangers she faces seeps through every page of this novel, as does the love for her children. There is never really any mention of the father or fathers of her children, but there are hints as to how some of her children were conceived. I got the impression that when Rachel bore some of her children, she was still a child herself.
I can’t believe this is a debut novel as it is written with so much depth, emotional intelligence and wisdom. There is so much buzz about this book, which was released on 19 January 2023, and rightly so. It is powerful and stunning!
Eleanor Shearer’s grandparents were part of the Windrush Generation. Hence she has always had a strong attachment to Caribbean history. She was initially inspired to write River Sing Me Home at the age of sixteen when she attended an exhibition put on by the Windrush Foundation entitled Making Freedom. As Eleanor states in her powerful Author’s Note:
This exhibition cast emancipation in a new light – not as the gift of white people in Britain, but as something fiercely fought for by the slaves themselves in revolutions and rebellions, from Haiti to Barbados.
A small wall plaque explained that, after emancipation, many women downed their tools and walked all over their islands to try and find their stolen children.Eleanor Shearer
The novel is also inspired by the Black women in Eleanor’s own family, and vividly draws on her own experiences in the Caribbean, staying with family throughout her life and also researching her Master’s thesis on the legacy of slavery in the Caribbean.
River Sing Me Home was published by Headline earlier this month (19 January). Believe me, this is a masterpiece and deserves to be read. Eleanor Shearer is a stunning new voice in the literary world and I can’t wait to read her future work. Thank you Eleanor for giving us readers River Sing Me Home.
Thank you also to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to the blog tour of this captivating novel. It has been a sheer privilege for me as a book blogger to read it and help tell the world about this important and beautiful historical fiction.
To follow the blog tour, please see below.