The Peach Seed
by Anita Gail Jones
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Pub Date 01 Aug 2023 | Archive Date 01 Sep 2023
Henry Holt & Company, Henry Holt and Co.
A multigenerational novel and an epic debut that explores the origins of a south Georgia family’s tradition and how its modern-day sons and daughters struggle with the legacies of America’s Civil Rights Movement and the far-reaching impacts of the 1800s slave trade from Senegal to Charleston, SC.
On a routine day, Fletcher Dukes drives his older sister, Olga, who is losing her sight, to do weekly grocery shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. On the liquor aisle, they pass a tall woman, head bowed reading a wine label. Fletcher smells her perfume first, then sees a strawberry birthmark on the nape of the woman’s neck and knows at once that this is his lost love, Altovise Benson. Fletcher and Altovise risked their lives together in sit-ins and marches, but their plan to marry was interrupted when the police turned a peaceful protest violent. The two were jailed in different towns leading to a separation that would ultimately span 52 years. Before Altovise’s departure, Fletcher carves her a peach seed monkey with diamond eyes. As we learn via harrowing flashbacks to 1800’s Senegal, an undiscovered Dukes ancestor who was sold into slavery carved the first peach seed monkey that forms the talismanic tradition, the rite of passage, that each generation of Dukes man gifts to his son on his 13th birthday—along with the tools and knowledge to carve them himself. By giving one to Altovise, Fletcher initiates a physical and spiritual break in a tradition that—like the Civil Rights Movement—irrevocably shapes the lives of future generations including Fletcher’s daughters, his grandson, Bo-D and a constellation of Dukeses in the present.