The Purchase

The Purchase

Book - 2013
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Winner of Canada's 2012 Governor General's Award for Fiction
 
In this provocative and starkly beautiful historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family's values and beliefs are sorely tested.
 
In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, recently widowed and shunned by his fellow Quakers when he marries his young servant girl to help with his five small children, moves his shaken family down the Wilderness Road to the Virginia/Kentucky border. Although determined to hold on to his Quaker ways, and despite his most dearly held belief that slavery is a sin, Daniel becomes the owner of a young boy named Onesimus, setting in motion a twisted chain of events that will lead to tragedy and murder, forever changing his children's lives and driving the book to an unexpected conclusion.
 
A powerful novel of sacrifice and redemption set in a tiny community on the edge of the frontier, this spellbinding narrative unfolds around Daniel's struggle to maintain his faith; his young wife, Ruth, who must find her own way; and Mary, the eldest child, who is bound to a runaway slave by a terrible secret. Darkly evocative, The Purchase is as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life. Its memorable characters, drawn with compassion and depth, are compellingly human, with lives that bring light to matters of loyalty and conscience.

Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books, [2013]
Edition: 1st U.S. ed.
ISBN: 9780307908414
0307908410
Branch Call Number: FICTION Spalding Linda 08/2013
Characteristics: 297 p. ;,25 cm.

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r
rodraglin
Jul 29, 2015

The humanity and hypocrisy of pioneer life in early America

The year is 1798. Daniel Dickenson, the father of five children is a Quaker living in Pennsylvania. His wife has just died a few months after giving birth to his youngest son. He has taken on a young woman, Ruth Boyd, an orphan and a Methodist, on a bond of indenture to help with the family during this time. Rather than return her to the almshouse as the Elders insist he feels obligated to keep her. This results in him being banished.

He packs up his family along with Ruth Boyd whom he marries and undertakes a journey to Virginia to start a new life.

The story that unfolds in The Purchase by Linda Spalding is an authentic depiction of what life was like as a pioneer in early America and embraces religion, family, morality and slavery. It is a story of hypocrisy as well as humanity.

The title, The Purchase, refers to the protagonist’s inadvertent purchase of a young boy as a slave. Dickenson, being a Quaker, is an abolitionist, and struggles with this moral dilemma throughout the story. He acts like a slave owner, albeit an enlightened one and he benefits from slave labour, yet considers himself against slavery. This ambivalence is endemic in his character and impacts on his relationships with his family and his community.

Spalding has a population of characters and yet this reader was able to discern each one and while their motivations were complex they all were believable.

This book is seamlessly plotted and powerfully written with sparse yet elegant prose and though it works on many levels they’re all expertly woven together in an intricate mosaic.

Though a remarkable accomplishment it fell short of five stars for me because I couldn’t relate to any of the characters. The time, the society, the circumstances were just too unfamiliar.

u
uncommonreader
Dec 03, 2014

This is a novel about Spalding's ancestors in Virginia in the early 19th century. A committed Quaker, an abolitionist, becomes a slave owner and he and descendants live in moral ambiguity. Unfortunately, all of the characters are not fully developed and some plot lines are dropped.

WVMLStaffPicks Aug 21, 2014

A Quaker family leaves Pennsylvania to set out to homestead in 1798. Facing the realities of pioneer life with meagre possessions and experience, the family is challenged both morally and physically. Based on research from the author’s own family, the story follows the struggles and consequences of these decisions for the family over two generations.

m
Mothercat
Aug 12, 2014

Hmmm ... found I enjoyed the first half of this book more than the second - thought I'm still not sure if I would recommend it ...

g
GLNovak
Mar 13, 2014

Widower Daniel Dickinson is cast out of his Quaker community with his new fifteen-year-old orphan bride, his five children children, his two horses and all his worldly goods to venture to Virginia. It is 1798, he is an abolitionist and Virginia is a slave state. Inexplicably and surprising to himself, he bids on and buys a young boy. The resulting story is one of how he and his family cope with their new life and the fact of slavery. I was totally engaged for the first half of so of the book, but began to bog down towards the end as the tone became darker and darker, and the characters more and more desperate. Maybe the author was paralleling the worsening plight of the slaves or of the country or of the friction in society. By the end I was done and didn't want to know anything more about the characters. Daniel was a sad man, his wife Ruth a bitter woman, and his children all in search of some peace and happiness. Was it the loss of his first wife? the loss of their Quaker community? the purchase of Onesimus? the times in general? All of the above?

d2013 Feb 02, 2014

Daniel Dickinson, a firm abolitionist, through unexpected events, is forced to make a decision that a man of his faith shouldn't have to make, buying a young black slave named Onesimus. Unfortunately Daniel Dickinson's life doesn't getting any easier. An eye-opener about the realities of pioneer life.

(Staff) Elaine Bird Jan 24, 2014

A fascinating novel, with slavery at its centre. Slavery was entwined into the Dickinson family even though they were Quakers and didn't feel it was right to own another person. The life of a pioneer is deftly told with care. Not a novel if you are looking for light enjoyment but certainly worth reading.

s
sharon711
Dec 21, 2013

If you think of souls you are oppressing as less than human, it is easy to heap abuse. This novel presents a vivid picture of what slavery meant, both to the oppressed and the oppressors. Life was harsh and not many people lived into old age.

The ways the Dickinson family found to make a living for themselves in this community was fascinating - to see how they each had roles to play and how they worked together as a team; how each helped the team but at the same time put their own needs first; how the young matured early by today’s standards, then took over the lead from an ineffective parent who lost power as he aged. The circle of life.

j
JennyMcD
Dec 18, 2013

This writing totally socked me in the gut. I was left open-mouthed with wonder at her precise, beautiful, incredible prose. I read this months ago, but not a week goes by that I don't think about this story.

What a sad, hopeless story. It does not end with any satisfying resolution and things never get better for anyone, except perhaps the run-away women. Daniel, the young widower with 5 children, continues to make decisions based on rigid thinking and a sense of entitlement based on past personal sufferings. Daniel is the middle child of 16 Quaker children, his father strict and unforgiving. He takes on a young wife out of pity, she is not a good fit in this family and Daniel is the quintessential lonely pioneer, almost 1 dimensional in his pathos, man against man, man against nature. This is a fast read. I doubt the novel will stand the test of time.

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