Published: 19 January 2023
Author: Eleanor Shearer
Published by: Headline
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Reading dates: 5-8 January 2023
We whisper the names of the ones we love like the words of a song.
That was the taste of freedom to us, those names on our lips.
Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane and Mercy.
These are the names of her children. The five who survived, only to be sold to other plantations. The faces Rachel cannot forget.
It’s 1834, and the law says her people are now free. But for Rachel freedom means finding her children, even if the truth is more than she can bear.
With fear snapping at her heels, Rachel keeps moving. From sunrise to sunset, through the cane fields of Barbados to the forests of British Guiana and on to Trinidad, to the dangerous river and the open sea.
Only once she knows their stories can she rest. Only then can she finally find home.
Inspired by the women who, in the aftermath of slavery, went in search of their lost children.
It’s 1834 in Barbados and the King of England has passed a law ending slavery. Rachel who is a slave on a plantation known as Providence is elated briefly before it becomes clear that they are not truly free – by law the slaves are now apprentices and must still work for another 6 years. Rachel has had enough and that night she runs for freedom. She remembers the horrors of what has happened to slaves who have tried to escape before but she doesn’t care – she just runs.
Rachel wants to find her lost children – she has had 11 children in all and the surviving 5 were all taken from her from around the age of just 10 – there names were Micah, Mary Grace, Mercy, Cherry Jane and Thomas Augustus. Her heart broke every time she lost one of her children and now she has to find them again. Finding herself with Mama B who lives on an abandoned tobacco plantation, she is astonished when a woman tells her she thinks Mary Grace is in nearby Bridgetown. And so begins her epic journey which take her from Barbados to British Guiana and Trinidad.
River Sing Me Home was a captivating read that reminded me of the atrocities of slavery. Families were regularly split up – Rachel is not the only one searching for her children. She is such a strong woman – to undertake what seems an impossible task to find her lost children who could be alive or dead or indeed almost anywhere in the world is a huge undertaking. She faces both joy and heartbreak and this is certainly an emotional read.
I’ve said before I enjoy historical fiction as I love to learn. The novel is based on the author’s discovery as a teenager that there were indeed women who tried to put their families back together after slavery. The book doesn’t shy away from the cruelties black people suffered as slaves but it is also a story of love and hope and the never ending love that mothers have for their children. A fascinating and immersive story that is an impressive debut, highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction.
Many thanks to Caitlin and Headline for the proof copy.
About the author
Eleanor Shearer is a mixed race writer from the UK. She splits her time between London and Ramsgate on the coast of Kent, so that she never has to go too long without seeing the sea.
As the granddaughter of Caribbean immigrants who came to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation, Eleanor has always been drawn to Caribbean history. Her first novel, RIVER SING ME HOME (Headline, UK & Berkley, USA) is inspired by the true stories of the brave woman who went looking for their stolen children after the abolition of slavery in 1834.
The novel draws on her time spent in the Caribbean, visiting family in St Lucia and Barbados. It was also informed by her Master’s degree in Politics, where she focused on how slavery is remembered on the islands today. She travelled to the Caribbean and interviewed activists, historians and family members, and their reflections on what it really means to be free made her more determined than ever to bring the hidden stories of slavery to light.