This is a great book. There are so many things in here to make you stop and think, not always comfortably. For example, Andrea is fortunate to have such an interesting and researchable family history to recount. And yet how can you say that it is good fortune to have a family history emeshed in slavery, traceable in part only because of efficient records of slave ownership? But there are also things in this book that make you want to just keep turning the page in the unfolding family drama down the generations. Although that can also be uncomfortable. You almost want the first Ashby's to survive and flourish against the odds in their new world. Or at least I did, aware that this is the start of the author's known family tree. And yet how can anyone say that they wanted these pioneer families to flourish, when it was only possible thanks to slavery?
A combination of detailled research and an eloquent retelling of some dreadful stories and realities bring another time and place vividly to life. However the fact that the story is also very personal adds a moving and unusual dimension, as Andrea reflects on her ancestors and their differing lives in an open and honest way. I kept being drawn back to these people, caring about their fate. Black, white and clearly all shades in between. Flawed and heroic, sometimes both. But all of them Andrea's flesh and blood, who have lived the consequences of slavery and empire and still do to this day.
In her preface Andrea talks beautifully about her debt of honour to all her ancestors, telling their story and bringing them to life. In the introduction she talks of how angry and upset she felt at finding an ancestor in a register of slaves, but also about how he can now be honoured. Andrea has done her family proud. She may consider that she had a debt to pay, if so it is certainly one that she has repaid handsomely with this book. And the rest of us are very lucky that such a gifted writer has chosen to share her story with us.
K. J. Talbot