Cover Image: To Free the Captives

To Free the Captives

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Member Reviews

Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf for the Advanced Reader's Copy!

Now available!

Truly there is no word for to describe the beautiful, painful, and haunting way Tracy K Smith excavates her family's history, starting in the Antebellum South to the current day. In lyrical and prosaic style, each chapter builds upon the last until we return with Smith to her native land in Alabama. In this book, the personal is political and Smith spares no detail in the precise way she maps the brutal history of slavery and racism on her own family tree. Yet, there are moments of levity, of joy - particularly in the chapters where Smith describes her own experience of motherhood. I could sense Smith's struggle in writing such a deeply personal work and felt vulnerable alongside her. An absolutely stellar, urgent read!

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Tracy K Smith is a singular voice in American poetry. This collection is a gorgeous, honest reflection on identity, nation, and the forces that separate and bind us. Endlessly re-readable.

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To Free the Captives is Tracy K. Smith’s very personal, often fascinating and powerful, look at the fraught place of race in the American story, its reflection in her family’s history, her personal struggle with sobriety, her reminiscences from childhood through marriages to current life in Massachusetts, the family she grew up in and now her own.

A very interesting segment concerns her discussion of the Free and the Freed and the many discrepancies accorded these two groups in our society ever since 1863. The Freed have never attained the same level of freedom of the Free who were granted it by circumstances of their birth. There is still a long way to go.

This occasionally feels like a stream of consciousness work, needing attention to glean Smith’s full meaning. She is so present throughout this work. I recommend To Free the Captives to readers interested in thoughtful essays on race, American history, memoir, and family life.

An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The review is my own.

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Stunning. Gorgeous. Lyrical and heartbreaking. Filled with life stories and life and love that often left me either breathless, or laughing, or crying [cue ugly sobbing], or all three.
This was my first book by this author, but it will most certainly not be my last. Absolutely gorgeous. Highly recommended.

"This book is a an act of seeking instigated by the understanding that the losses we in our time are called to bear are great and increasing. But I believe there are things we know -- and things we might muster there wherewithal to recollect -- that will be of help. This is one attempt to know and to recollect."
Tracy K. Smith [in acknowledgements]

Thank you to NetGalley, Tracy K. Smith, and Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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This is a powerfully written book that speaks of the mingling of present and history. Tracy K. Smith is know for her poetry and this at times reads poetically. This book doesn’t really have a structure but moves between memoir, history and current events seamlessly. I did sometimes miss structure and found my mind wandering away from the message but the overall theme of coming to terms with the horror of our history is important.

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Dynamic. I haven't completely finished it, but I feel compelled by the content and scope of Tracy K. Smith's memoir. Beautiful writing. A true reckoning.

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As a fan of Tracy K. Smith’s writing, I was eager to read an ARC copy of her just-released memoir, To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul, published on November 7, 2023.

I found To Free the Captives to be a poignant and beautifully written personal manifesto. I was moved by Tracy K. Smith’s vulnerable discoveries, and grateful to have the opportunity to learn from them. I will be forever changed by her concepts of “free” and “freed.”

Highly recommended, and especially for those interested in acknowledging our shared past and seeking a healing way forward .

Thank you to Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book was published on November 7, 2023.

5 stars

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Every bit of this book is good. The words on these pages will haunt me for the rest of my life, and that is not hyberole. WOW. I'll never look at the word free the same.

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Infused with emotion, courage and hope, this stunning portrait of ancestry and history speaks to our current moment of racial strife and reckoning. This is a beautiful model for collective understanding and growth through the exploration of one’s own past.

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Thank you to Net Galley and Knopf for the ARC in exchange for my honest review. Such a beautifully written book filled with stories of family - extended family and present day, family history, race, society, and culture that all meld together to make us captives in life and how we try to break free in many different ways. The book is separated into chapters about different parts of her life. I especially was struck by the chapters about her parents and about her first husband (who is Mexican) and her second husband (who is white) and their children. I find that poets write the most wonderfully lyrical prose. Not only was the writing meaningful and thought-provoking if was a pleasure to read. I highly recommend this one!

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This work has layers and it goes deep. It is both personal and universal. At first I thought she was examining the intricacies of America’s multi-colored quilt – honoring and recognizing the many hands that labored to plant, weave, and stitch the fabric into fruition. Surprisingly, Tracy took things to another level - her brilliance shines when she shares her family history as America’s history and examines the concepts of freedom as it relates to the free and the freed. Her poetic genius conjures into words the strength, determination, and love that lie within the souls of Black folk and Indigenous peoples over the generations. She recounts her family history including her own memories to cite how they persevered through America’s racist and discriminatory policies that spawned decades of setback and disappointment and during those times it was faith, love, and hope that sustained and propelled them forward. This is a very personal and soul-searching project - I love the way she pays homage to the men in her family and her bravery when she shares family photos, successes and losses, pain and joy. There’s no doubt this work was a very cathartic exercise for her because she praises the benefits of meditation as a balm and source of inspiration.

I highlighted frequently – there are some beautifully written passages that spew wisdom, inspiration, and gratitude. I enjoyed my time with this offering.

Thanks to Knopf, Pantheon Vintage, and Achor (the publishers) and NetGalley for the opportunity to read in advance for an honest review.

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Dividing people in the U.S. South by race, the blacks and the whites, in our long passed postbellum era, Tracy Smith offers the identifiers of Freed, the once slaves, the blacks, and the Free, the once masters, the whites. To gaze on the past, proper grammar dictates that she speaks of a freeing or to free, the literal historical freeing and a personal psychological and spiritual freeing, having to with the soul, the souls of black people and her soul as a black woman.

She writes of her travels, to a plantation to research a libretto, to family reunions in Alabama, and to North America’s farthest southern country for a vacation. The documents and visits to the family reunion become a finding for poems. The historical allusions to the messiness of the contemporary life of a black woman who became a poet includes broken relationships, her emotional thoughts on being a black mother reading of the murder of Trayvon Martin, her admittal of alcoholism given to the power of meditation as healing and inspiration.

Engaging one of several empowering themes running through her work, of black men, a theme perhaps best epitomized by the title of the poem Strong Men written by Sterling Brown, Sterling the name of one of Tracy Smith’s sons. Perusing documents and photos and conversations with the elders of her family genealogy she learns of the men on her family tree who served in the military. In Wade in the Water, she used documents of letters to put together a group of what is called found poems. During one family reunion she is introduced to the men on horseback in her family, which leads to a meditation on the history of black cowboys. She writes of her two husbands, her twin sons, and as a continuation of this lineage of strong black men, the boy child, a cousin, she holds in her arms.

My thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for an advanced readers copy.

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I have long loved Ms. Smith... her poetry is some of my favorite! So when I found this available on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to read a copy.

To Free the Captives does not disappoint! It is masterfully... beautifully written. Her prose is heartfelt as she looks back and her history, the history of slavery, and how to unpack all of that now today. Another reviewer noted that she had highlighted so many passages and I did too. This is a book that I will be purchasing so that I can physically highlight, underline, and notate. It is a book that will stay with me for a very long time... Smith floored me with this simple statement: The Free and the Freed.

I will never think the same way again... and in the era of banned books being all the rage, if you are looking for a place to start as you contemplate the true history of this country... To Free the Captives is the perfect place to start. I highly recommend!

I would like to thank Netgalley, Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor for this copy of a book!

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From the Pulitzer Prize–winning poe laureate Tracy K Smith, To Free the Captives is a mesmerizing revelation on
past, family ties, heritage and American History.

This is an unforgettable book at our country and the ongoing struggle to make sense of American History and make space to live with it. When a poet writes prose, every word counts and Smith has brought new perspective to words such as The Free and The Freed. This is an important work following the wake of violence upon Black Americans highlighted during the pandemic.
#knopf #pantheon #tracyksmith #tofreethecaptives

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Tracy K Smith masterfully traces her ancestry and heritage in this meditation on American history, family, memory and the ways all of those are connected in “To Free The Captives.” I have nothing critical to say about this book; it is so well crafted and organized. I love Smith’s poetry, which you can hear even in the melody of her prose. I highlighted many, many lines in this copy because so much of it bowled me over - I’ll probably have to buy this when it comes out so I can mark it up again.
Thank you so much Knopf and NetGalley for the advanced review copy!!

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