A bold, deeply moving, and highly imaginative 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.
In his vivid, original, and heartrending account of the 37-year relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, one that began in Paris in 1789 and ended with Jefferson's death in 1826, Stephen O'Connor manages to be unsparing in his rendition of the hypocrisy of the slaveholder who wrote "all men are created equal" and yet allow both of his protagonists their tender, beautiful, and deeply human moments. This is a novel in which nothing is what it seems, in which innocence shares the heart with evil.
O'Connor's tale alternates among lush realism rendered with a historian's eye for detail, a first-person confession penned by Hemings after Jefferson has passed away, and fabulistic interludes 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. Fundamentally, Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings is a story about yearning - for love, for justice, for an ideal world - and about the survival of hope, even in the midst of catastrophe.
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Every time Sally said, "You'll make me HATE you!"
Just finished listening to another Jefferson-Hemings novel. This one, much like a dream, recounted vignettes of their lives, wholly out of order especially at the beginning. This was disconcerting to me, but I finally got a handle on what was going on. There were also some completely fabricated scenes that could not have possibly happened during their lifetimes, like riding on a subway. However, since the author did read several Jefferson non-fictions before he wrote the "Dreams" book, it did contain plenty of truths, a few of which I didn't know. The problem was, though, were these truths? Or dreams? It was hard for me to tell, but I ended up liking the book. Was that because of the male reader Ballerini's beautiful reading? That, also, is up for debate. You could just wrap yourself up in his voice.