Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings

Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings

A Novel

Book - 2016
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"Dazzling. . . The most revolutionary reimagining of Jefferson's life ever." -Ron Charles, Washington Post

Winner of the Crook's Corner Book Prize

Longlisted for the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

A debut novel about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, in whose story the conflict between the American ideal of equality and the realities of slavery and racism played out in the most tragic of terms.

Novels such as Toni Morrison's Beloved, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, James McBride's The Good Lord Bird and Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks are a part of a long tradition of American fiction that plumbs the moral and human costs of history in ways that nonfiction simply can't. Now Stephen O'Connor joins this company with a profoundly original exploration of the many ways that the institution of slavery warped the human soul, as seen through the story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. O'Connor's protagonists are rendered via scrupulously researched scenes of their lives in Paris and at Monticello that alternate with a harrowing memoir written by Hemings after Jefferson's death, as well as with dreamlike sequences in which Jefferson watches a movie about his life, Hemings fabricates an "invention" that becomes the whole world, and they run into each other "after an unimaginable length of time" on the New York City subway. O'Connor is unsparing in his rendition of the hypocrisy of the Founding Father and slaveholder who wrote "all men are created equal," while enabling Hemings to tell her story in a way history has not allowed her to. His important and beautifully written novel is a deep moral reckoning, a story about the search for justice, freedom and an ideal world--and about the survival of hope even in the midst of catastrophe.
Publisher: New York, New York : Viking, [2016]
ISBN: 9780525429968
Characteristics: 610 pages ; 24 cm


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Apr 06, 2018

This book is so incredibly "creative" the author is either a genius or a flake. Your choice.

May 24, 2016

Combining fact with fiction, this book takes a historical truth - that a widowed Thomas Jefferson had an intimate relationship with one of his most trusted slaves, Sally Hemings, that produced children - then weaves a tale of vignettes that contain some facts and numbers but mostly conjecture about the relationship, from the perspective of Jefferson and Hemings themselves, historical figures like Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and James and Dolley Madison, and time warps where Jefferson finds himself in an early 20th century movie house showing a film about his life that he believes is a bunch of lies, modern day New York City where he spots Hemings in the same subway car he's riding on, a suspect in jail on a charge he's never told what it is, and even a reality where he's an ape and can do nothing about it. It took me a few days to read it to take it all in but I found it entertaining, as well as educational.


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