Canaan's Tongue: Book summary and reviews of Canaan's Tongue by John Wray

Canaan's Tongue

by John Wray

Canaan's Tongue by John Wray X
Canaan's Tongue by John Wray
Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

An explosive allegorical novel set on the eve of the Civil War, about a gang of men hunted by both the Union and the Confederacy for dealing in stolen slaves.

Geburah Plantation, 1863: in a crumbling estate on the banks of the Mississippi, eight survivors of the notorious Island 37 Gang wait for the war, or the Pinkerton Detective Agency, to claim them. Their leader, a bizarre charismatic known only as "the Redeemer," has already been brought to justice, and each day brings the battling armies closer. The hatred these men feel for one another is surpassed only by their fear of their many pursuers. Into this hell comes a mysterious force, an “avenging angel” that compels them, one by one, to a reckoning of their many sins.

Canaan’s Tongue is rooted in the criminal world of John Murrell, as infamous in his day as Jesse James or Al Capone. It tells the story of his reluctant protégé, Virgil Ball, who derives riches, sexual privilege, and power from the commerce in stolen slaves, known only as “the Trade”—and discovers, when he finally decides to free himself from the Redeemer’s yoke, that the force he is challenging is far more formidable than he imagined. It is as old as the river, as vast as the country itself, and it is with us to this day.

Canaan’s Tongue is a work of extraordinary narrative and emotional power.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

"The gothic horror of Canaan's Tongue sometimes grows too shrill to proclaim its critique of American culture clearly, but Wray's magnetic hold on our imagination never flags, and that, in the end, is his most effective demonstration of the power that haunts this faithful land." - The Washington Post.

"Steeped in effective 19th-century archaism, yet steely in sustaining the story, the prose is as poetic as it is violent." - Publishers Weekly.

"His language and descriptive abilities are quite brilliant." - KLIATT.

"At times, it achieves the profundity it aims for; at others, characters that sometimes seem stiff as figures in old daguerreotypes weigh it down." - Library Journal.

"Wray is the real thing, and Canaan's Tongue is itself a masterpiece." - Kirkus Reviews.

This information about Canaan's Tongue was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

John Wray Author Biography

John Wray, whose mother is Austrian and whose father is Californian, was born in Washington, D.C., where his parents, both scientists, were employed by the National Institute of Health. He grew up in Buffalo, New York, and in Friesach, a small town in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia. When he was a boy, his mother began reading Penguin Classics at a rate of exactly one per week, as a way to improve her English: one of his fondest memories of childhood is of having the entirety of The Pickwick Papers read to him at far too young an age, and understanding next to nothing, but loving the sound and mood of it regardless.

In the hope of following his parents into science, Wray majored in biology at Oberlin College, intending to become an ornithologist; in the end, he had to ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview

Other books by John Wray at BookBrowse
  • Lowboy jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more historical fiction...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Big Red
    Big Red
    by Jerome Charyn
    Jerome Charyn made his name as an author of detective novels, and over the years he has taken his ...
  • Book Jacket: If I Survive You
    If I Survive You
    by Jonathan Escoffery
    In If I Survive You, author Jonathan Escoffery portrays a family falling apart with grace. Main ...
  • Book Jacket: Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    by Sidik Fofana
    'Everybody got a story, everybody got a tale / Question is: Is it despair or prevail?' ...
  • Book Jacket: Fire Season
    Fire Season
    by Leyna Krow
    Fire Season is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that touches upon multiple genres and themes. It ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Carolina Moonset
by Matt Goldman
An engrossing novel about family, memories and secrets too dangerous to stay hidden.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.