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

Canaan's Tongue

by John Wray

Canaan's Tongue
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  • Published in USA  May 2005
    352 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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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.

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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.

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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 ...

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