The Purchase by Linda Spalding

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The Purchase by Linda Spalding

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The haunting story of an early American Quaker family that kept me up all night till I'd read it. This 6-out-of-5 book is as gut-wrenching as it is beautiful and won't let you go, even if you wanted it to.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 297 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Sandstone Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1908737519

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1798: Daniel Dickinson moves his five children and 15-year-old second wife away from the Pennsylvanian Quaker community he used to call home, towards Virginia. While on an equipment-buying trip he comes across a slave auction and decides to be true to his abolitionist beliefs in an unusual way. He buys Onesimus, a young slave boy, in order to change the lad's life, intending to offer him a home and fairness in place of captivity. However, reality is more difficult and the Dickinsons find that their new servant will actually change their lives instead.

American writer Linda Spalding has picked a subject close to her heart: a novel based on the life of her few-greats-grandfather Daniel Dickinson but there's really no need to cringe. Yes, I know that often projects like this turn out to be more about the author's personal quest than providing good reading matter but the way that Linda fictionalises the results of her genealogical research is an absolute triumph, not to mention a convincing award winner.

The story begins small, one family going to and from we know not where for we know not why. (Don't worry - we find out.) Then gradually it broadens out to a wide cast of neighbours, slaves and those whom Daniel seeks to save (yes, plural) as it follows Daniel and the children through to the youngsters' embryonic adulthood.

The cast reflects society's harshness and chronicles the problems (in all their contemporary brutality) while we endow each person's character with differing degrees of affection. (In the case of some of Daniel's neighbours, this degree of my affection being unmitigated hatred.)

Linda layers her well-researched, compelling plot with an intuitive feel for what her people feel and how this translates into actions. This is particularly the case with Ruth, Daniel's former servant and now very young, illiterate wife. She's well-written but not necessarily someone to whom we warm. Yet we can sympathise as she tries to assert her position with her predecessor's children who are practically her peers as well as her charges. Having said that, there's a wonderful 'Yay Ruth!' moment near the end.

Talking about yay, beware: Linda aims to engage our emotions and is a deadly shot. For instance I dare anyone not to be touched to some degree (yep, I blubbed yet again!) at the moment when Daniel shows in actions the love he feels for one of his children that he's unable to demonstrate in words.

Indeed, this is no white-wash job; Linda reanimates Daniel warts and all. Rather than a creation for an idealised family reunion, he's a real human and, as such, makes some stinking decisions in the name of protecting his family and good name edged with an endearing impulsiveness. However the author enables him to reach down the generations to us in a way that makes us, again, understand and totally forgive. He's also a man of his era; although anti-slave, there are things preventing him from seeing a kindred humanity when he looks as Onesimus, no matter how he tries.

If you want a book that's a continual giggle, this won't be it. However if you want a haunting, memorably beautiful novel that makes you get up in the middle of the night to read more (yes, I did), go no further. Linda Spalding seems to be writing with us in mind.

I'd like to thank Sandstone Press for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If this appeals, then we also recommend another novel based on an author's ancestor, this time in South Africa: Philida by Andre Brink. You might also enjoy The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom.

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Buy The Purchase by Linda Spalding at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Purchase by Linda Spalding at

Booklists.jpg The Purchase by Linda Spalding is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2013.


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