Book Review: 'Angels Make Their Hope Here'

Alan Cheuse reviews Angels Make Their Hope Here, by Breena Clarke.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDRED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Now to 19th-century New Jersey and a new novel. It set among unusually tolerant people. A racially mixed community that offers refuge to independent souls. Alan Cheuse has this review of the novel "Angels Make Their Hope Here" by Breena Clarke.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Clarke calls her Jersey Shangri-La, Russell’s Knob. Where a black community elder named Duncan Smoot heads a couple of families. He's got a sister and some nephews he looks after and with other clans, works out the governance and defenses of this out-of-the-way corner of the state in 1849. It's a mostly peaceful place up here, as Clarke makes clear in this description early in the novel, of an early morning with Smoot's sister. (Reading) When the first color emerges on the distant ridges and frothy mist is just beginning to be visible, it's the time of the first chatterers, those birds that herald dawn. On most mornings this lovely passage with its echoes of early morning on the Mississippi and Huck Finn goes on, the birds are in a keen and noisy competition. Though they do their own farming, these outlying villagers, some families black, some white, others mixed, these amalgamators, as the more conventional folks down in the low lands call them, still have to find supplies. Which is Duncan's Smoot's line of work. On one of his many forays down toward the large towns and the river, he liberates a young black girl named Dossie from her former master and raises her to become one of the bright lights of the community of Russell's Knob. A decade or so later when she comes of age, he quite improbably takes her as his wife. The outspoken and paradoxical Dossie has become the light of his life. And also a worrisome lot of confusion when she goes to market down in Paterson and find herself the target of a nasty bigoted sheriff. After this the novel swiftly goes from idyllic to horrific but told throughout in language that gives us the verbal music of the period and the soulful reality of this little community of outliers. "Angels Make Their Hope Here" - this tribute to old Jersey is well worth your time.

SIEGEL: The novel is called "Angels Make Their Hope Here." The author is Breena Clarke and our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

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