Cover Image: Yonder

Yonder

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10/7/21 I really expected this book to  be on the National Book Award longlist. Very surprised it wasn't. 

Book Review: Yonder
Author: Jabari Asim
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: January 11, 2022
Review Date: August 4, 2021

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

From the blurb:
“The Water Dancer meets The Prophets in this spare, gripping, and beautifully rendered novel exploring love and friendship among a group of enslaved Black strivers in the mid-19th century.

They call themselves the Stolen. Their owners call them captives. They are taught their captors’ tongues and their beliefs but they have a language and rituals all their own.

In a world that would be allegorical if it weren’t saturated in harsh truths, Cato and William meet at Placid Hall, a plantation in an unspecified part of the American South. Subject to the whims of their tyrannical and eccentric captor, Cannonball Greene, they never know what harm may befall them: inhumane physical toil in the plantation’s quarry by day, a beating by night, or the sale of a loved one at any moment. It’s that cruel practice—the wanton destruction of love, the belief that Black people aren’t even capable of loving—that hurts the most.

It hurts the reserved and stubborn William, who finds himself falling for Margaret, a small but mighty woman with self-possession beyond her years. And it hurts Cato, whose first love, Iris, was sold off with no forewarning. He now finds solace in his hearty band of friends, including William, who is like a brother; Margaret; Little Zander; and Milton, a gifted artist. There is also Pandora, with thick braids and long limbs, whose beauty calls to him.

Their relationships begin to fray when a visiting minister with a mysterious past starts to fill their heads with ideas about independence. He tells them that with freedom comes the right to choose the small things—when to dine, when to begin and end work—as well as the big things, such as whom and how to love. Do they follow the preacher and pursue the unknown? Confined in a landscape marked by deceit and uncertainty, who can they trust?

In an elegant work of monumental imagination that will reorient how we think of the legacy of America’s shameful past, Jabari Asim presents a beautiful, powerful, and elegiac novel that examines intimacy and longing in the quarters while asking a vital question: What would happen if an enslaved person risked everything for love?”
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What an extraordinary novel! Beautiful in every way. Plot, character, place and setting. The writing can only be called lyrical. This is a heartbreaking book too, describing the brutality of life as a slave in the mid 1850’s. The slaves call themselves the Stolen, and their plantation owners, Thieves. I have never heard a more accurate description. 

I have read a number of really first class novels via NetGalley recently, but Yonder especially, I will be surprised if it does not win a major literary award. I highly, highly recommend this book. 10 stars out of 5! 

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for allowing access to this early galley. And best of luck to Mr. Asim in his continuing literary career.

This review will be posted on NetGalley and Goodreads. 

#netgalley #yonder #jabariasim # simon&Schuster #africanamericanliterature
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“We called them Thieves; they called themselves God’s Children. We called ourselves Stolen; they called us niggas.” I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. An allegorical tale of slavery written beautifully. While the story is not new, this telling is focused on intimacy and love while a slave. So often it seems as if "slaves" have been used as a conduit to tell the slave story without really touching the hearts of those involved....that black people  were not capable of loving or any emotion. That is a hard history to ignore.
5*
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Thank you Simon & Schuster, NetGalley and Author for this wonderful advanced ebook copy! 

I was very excited to see I got approved for Yonder by Asim. I've heard good things about this story and wanted to give it a go for myself. As I'm trying g to expand my genre. 
And I'm here to say this did not let me down! 
These characters Cato and William I couldn't have loved these characters any more than I already do! 
WoW! What they went through?! Completely made me cringe and cry. 
This was such a beautiful but heart wrenching story! 
Jabari Asim writing flowed very beautifully which had me hanging onto every word! 
Loved it! Praised it! And I hope most readers will also!
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“We called them Thieves; they called themselves God’s Children.  We called ourselves Stolen; they called us niggas.”  -- William

Cannonball Greene is a self-professed “academic” planter who seeks notoriety as an expert in the field of chattel slavery management.  He concocts various experiments involving the Stolen and documents the outcome in hopes of publishing his work to shed light on the enigmas surrounding the handling, behavior, and mindset of the enslaved/Stolen.  As with many of the time, he incorrectly believed the African/Negro was not human and therefore did not reason, feel, or possess the same aptitude for learning, advanced thinking, emotional bonding, etc. as Whites.  He believed their behavior was controllable and predictable; that they possessed an innate inclination of deference toward a superior being (Whites). 

It is in this flawed, cruel universe where Yonder dwells.  While the author does not spare the reader the brutality and ugliness of the era, it is nonetheless a beautifully demonstrative tale set in the antebellum South across three neighboring plantations.  It shows how families were built from the orphaned, the widowed, the broken-hearted, and the lost.  It reveals how bonds formed under duress and desperate circumstances rival those formed by blood.  

For example, at one point in the novel, an emotionally damaged, heartless Stolen man ironically named Cupid spews, “Lovesick niggas don’t do nobody no good.  Love will spoil a nigga for certain.” Asim’s characters witness and endure atrocities such that it is totally understandable why some would opt to guard their hearts by choosing not to care because loved ones could be sold, killed, or removed at the whim of the Thieves/Owners at any time without warning.  However,  many opted to love regardless of the circumstances.  Asim layers the various facets of love in the inner and inter-relationships of the characters - we see that love is a balm; it heals.  Love is patient; it waits and endures.  Love inspires, motivates, and propels.  Love is kind and thoughtful.  Love is magical.

I enjoyed my time with William, a naturally fearless, reserved leader, and his outgoing, outspoken soulmate, Margaret.  Cato, “brother” to William, a stoic thinker who craves freedom and a chance at love with Pandora, a courageous dreamer in her own right.  The supporting characters were well-crafted with backstories steeped in folklore and history -- Zander, a boy who sees angels and believes he will grow wings and fly; Ransom, a freedman preacher who visits the plantations to openly spread the “Good Word” from the Thieves’ god, yet clandestinely calls for inspiration and hope from their Ancestors.  He talks of freedom over yonder for those brave and strong enough to pursue it.  

There are aspects of magical realism (some readers may not care for it; I didn’t mind), use of the “n-word,” and as mentioned before emotional abuse, graphic violence, including mention and references of sexual abuse/rape.  

A heartfelt thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review in exchange for a review.
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