Tired of everyone telling you how to live your life? Libertie's fight to shape her future in 1800s NYC is for you.
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Coming of age as a freeborn Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson is all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, has a vision for their future together: Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother, who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.
Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States and rich with historical detail, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new and immersive novel will resonate with readers eager to understand our present through a deep, moving, and lyrical dive into our complicated past.
I saw my mother raise a man from the dead. “It still didn’t help him much, my love,” she told me. But I saw her do it all the same. That’s how I knew she was magic.
The time I saw Mama raise a man from the dead, it was close to dusk. Mama and her nurse, Lenore, were in her office—Mama with her little greasy glasses on the tip of her nose, balancing the books, and Lenore banking the fire. That was the rule in Mama’s office—the fire was kept burning from dawn till after dinner, and we never let it go out completely. Even on the hottest days, when my linen collar stuck to the back of my neck and the belly of Lenore’s apron was stained with sweat, a mess of logs and twigs was lit up down there, waiting.
When the dead man came, it was spring. I was playing on the stoop. I’d broken a stick off the mulberry bush, so young it had resisted the pull of my fist. I’d had to work for it. Once I’d wrenched it off, I stripped the bark and rubbed the wet wood underneath on the flagstone, pressing the green into rock.
I heard a rumbling come close and looked up, and I could see, down the road, a mule plodding slow and steady with a covered wagon, a ribbon of dust trailing behind it.
Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
“I saw my mother raise a man from the dead. ‘It still didn’t help him much, my love,’ she told me. But I saw her do it all the same. That’s how I knew she was magic.”
So begins the transporting novel Libertie, a moving and literary story about a mother, her daughter, and the weight of the expectations that pass back and forth between them.
Born just before the Civil War in what is now New York City, Libertie is the free-born daughter of a successful and gifted female physician who expects her to take up, if not extend, the legacy of their family. Contrary to her mother’s plans, Libertie wonders whether her life may follow a different path. So it comes as little surprise to the reader that when a suitor asks for her hand in marriage—with the promise that she will be his equal in his home country of Haiti—she accepts. (You can imagine her mom’s reaction.)
This is no ordinary coming-of-age tale—it’s also a tribute to real figures from the historical archive and an existentialist account of one woman’s search for freedom. Libertie is an absolute achievement: a wonderful story about a young woman who—against the clamor of opinions on who she should be—dares to listen to her own voice.
Member ratings (7,687)
Montgomery Village, MD
It started slow for me and then couldn’t put it down. Libertie is struggling with living to her Mom’s expectations, being a woman of color in the Civil War era, finding her way in relationships…Wow!
Don’t want to give away the ending but I loved how it ended! Also loved the mother-daughter bond, struggles and everything in between and how Libertie dealt with expectations and freedom for herself.
A gut wrenching portrait of what it means to search for freedom when you’re unsure of who you are. I wanted everything wrapped up in a bow, but love it even more that it wasn’t. Likely to reread.
For me this was all about how difficult the mother daughter relationship can be. Moms wanting the best for their daughters, and daughters who want to be true to themselves but scared of disappointing.
This is not the type of book I typically read- both style wise and content- but I really enjoyed it. It is very beautifully written, thought provoking. I was pulled in.. I stayed up late to finish it.