Breena Clarke’s debut novel, River, Cross My Heart, about the legacy of slavery in the 1920s, was an Oprah Book Club selection. Stand the Storm looks at an earlier time and the struggles of newly freed slaves.
The Story: Although many Civil War-era slaves bought their own freedom, racism, segregation, and violence still severely encumbered their lives. When Gabriel Coats, his mother, Sewing Annie, his fiancée, Mary, and his sister, Ellen buy their freedom after great suffering, they open a tailor shop and laundry in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. But as their former master tries to regain control of his former property and as the family pays for their "freedom" again and again, they soon discover that true liberty means not only continual hardship and sacrifice—but also fighting for their lives on a daily basis.
Little, Brown. 336 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 0316007048
"The story of Stand the Storm lies not so much in the plot as in the characters, their relationship with each other and the larger societal issues. … And while much has been written about the physical and psychic abuse that was inherent in the institution of slavery, Clarke has mastered a matter-of-fact delivery that makes the cruelty immediate." Robin Vidimos
"Stand the Storm reads like a great 19th-century page-turner, like Oliver Twist or the masterful Uncle Tom’s Cabin. … We all know stories of the great black exceptions, but Breena Clarke writes about ordinary people who happen to be exceptional." Gail Buckley
Dallas Morning News
"There is something vaguely familiar about this tale. … In the end, this is a love story in its purest form." Karen M. Thomas
Rocky Mountain News
"What makes Clarke’s novel rise above other stories about American slavery is her ability to capture the dangerous precariousness of life in a land that does not yet have laws to protect black people. … The highly sexed atmosphere of Clarke’s novel suggests that all men, when left unchecked, are capable of casual rape" Jennie Camp
Like her first work of historical fiction, Stand the Storm weaves together the tale of an African American family struggling to cope in a white world. Although this novel takes place a few generations before River, Cross My Heart, it packs an equally powerful punch. Despite its horrors and violence, Stand the Storm is a surprisingly uplifting love story about men and women attempting to free themselves from bondage. Critics praised the emotional depth of Clarke’s characterizations and her compelling portrayal of life in a city that discriminates against its African American inhabitants. They diverged slightly on the quality of the writing, but the memorable cast of characters—primary and secondary—as well as the humane story more than made up for any flaws.
Also by the Author
River, Cross My Heart (1999): Oprah Book Club selection. In 1920s Georgetown, a young African American girl banned from the "white" swimming pool drowns in the Potomac, and her older sister—and her community—struggle to survive.