Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Any Known Blood

Author: Lawrence Hill
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: secondhand book
Genre: Historical Fiction (Slavery)
Pages: 505
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
First Line: "She came to his room after darkness fell, confident that nobody had followed her."

Synopsis:  Langston Cane is recently divorced and has just lost his job.  Coming from a highly successful family, Langston is overcome by these changes and feels the need to search for his own identity and reconnect with his past by writing a novel based on his family.  As a man who comes from both caucasian and black heritages Langston feels compelled to delve into his family's black heritage to discover his family's history.  Over the course of his discoveries the reader is introduced to the four Langston Canes that came before him with their own struggles and successes. 

Langston's research for his family history takes him from his hometown of Oakville, Ontario (the end of the Underground Railroad) to Baltimore, MD where his estranged Aunt Millicent still lives.  With her begrudging help, Langston finds old family letters which only incite his passion to learn more about where his family came from.  The story details the Cane men's struggles with slavery, the Underground Railroad, attaining freedom in Canada as well as the struggle to feel truly equal after finally becoming 'free'.
My Thoughts:  I have to preface this review by letting you all know that I'm a big fan of Lawrence Hill after reading (and loving) his "Book of Negroes" (known in the USA as "Someone Knows My Name").  It was a fantastic book so I knew that Mr Hill had some mighty big shoes to fill in order to impress me.  My verdict?  Lawrence Hill continues to amaze me with another outstanding book.  While I still feel that "The Book of Negroes" was a better read this comes in as a very close second. 

As I was reading the book I kept trying to put my finger on what exactly makes Hill's books stand out.  The only thing that I can come up with is that there seems to be such as ease in his storytelling.  His story flows so smoothly, even with the jumping back and forth between generations.  I am able to immerse myself into his stories and get totally and utterly captivated.  That's what makes a great book for me.

His characters aren't perfect but they are believable.  Each of the Langston Canes has his own struggles and strengths but Aunt Mill is, hands down, my favourite character.  While she is a quirky old gal, she has a deep love for her family.  Reading how her personal values and attitude are at odds with the growing feelings she has for her nephew is what made her stand out for me. 

One of Lawrence Hill's strengths as a writer is that he has the ability to teach his readers about serious topics with such ease and compassion.  The reader witnesses the struggles that the Langston Canes had from slavery, to freedom, to struggling with their new freedom (being free but not necessarily treated as equals) and finally to education and success.  We also get a look into how an interracial marriage was perceived by some as well as the issue within the black community in regards to the darkness of a person's skin tone.  That's a lot of different issues within one book but Hill makes it work.

Now, I will admit, and warn, that there is quite a lot of jumping back and forth between the various Langston Canes.  This could make the story muddled and confusing but Hill makes it easy for the reader to keep track of which Langston Cane the story is following by providing a family tree at the beginning of the book which I used often.  One would think that giving five main characters all with the same name it would make for a very confusing read but Hill gives each of these men such a individual personality and voice that soon after meeting the new Langston Cane it quickly became apparent that we were dealing with a new character all his own

Lastly, I love the fact that this book is partially based in southern Ontario (Oakville and Toronto).  It made me proud as a Canadian to learn how Oakville was one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad and how so many Canadians and Americans helped runaway slaves to reach freedom here in the Great White North.

This is a wonderfully descriptive story that sheds light on factual events in American and Canadian history as well as merging those with a truly memorable fictional tale that details the interesting lives of five generations of Langston Canes.  This hard to put down book showcases the enduring spirit of people and the love of family.  Recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5

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