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Excerpt from Yonder by Jabari Asim, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Yonder

A Novel

by Jabari Asim

Yonder by Jabari Asim X
Yonder by Jabari Asim
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2022, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 10, 2023, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

I
The Gods Who Made Us

William

By my reckoning, I had fourteen harvests behind me when I saw the children. At the time, I was captive to a Thief named Norbrook, a tall, thin man with an unnerving stare and a smile that could easily be mistaken for a snarl. He was far from rich, with only a small farm and ten stolen people to his name. For our labors Norbrook gave us two daily meals of corn mush and bone soup, an annual gift of a pair of pants, dresses for women, long shirts for the children, a pair of ill-fitting boots, and as many stripes as our black skins could bear. We had hardships aplenty, yet we found some comfort in knowing that others in the world—rats, say, or snakes—had it even worse.

I was born into Norbrook's possession. Of my parents I had no knowledge. My earliest memories involve few human beings, Stolen or otherwise. Instead of recollections of first words or first steps or sweet lullabies that a mother might sing, I remember staggering with the others to the woods at dusk to fill our blankets with leaves. To assist and comfort Norbrook's pigs and cattle, we were obliged to pile foliage on the blankets—the same ragged cloth that sheltered us as we slept on the cold, damp earth at night—and drag them to the pens and stables, where we lined the animals' beds. This must have been one of my first tasks, tugging a weight nearly as heavy as myself, battling the swarms of black flies and mosquitoes as they landed heavily and pecked at my eyes, ears, and mouth. So often did I trudge and sweat in this manner that my young mind entertained few thoughts beyond this discomfort, and often I couldn't tell if I was dreaming or awake. Most of Norbrook's Stolen were acquired by schemes carried out in the shadows, including gambling, rigged auctions, and unseemly bargains. We suffered his tormenting while he wrestled with debt, claiming he would soon achieve a run of profit that would swell his purse and bring him the hurrahs and hand-clapping he so richly deserved.

While dodging his creditors, he learned about the ill luck of a trader named Bill Myers. This man attended auctions throughout the state, acquiring Stolen women whose days as breeders were running dry. Many of them had their youngest children in their arms. Myers stored his purchases and their babes in a shuttered log pen in town and assigned two old aunties to maintain them on broth and crumbs. Soon after, he gathered only the mothers and drove them south for sale, leaving their children behind, with an eye toward returning and harvesting them. But he was detained, and the young ones were left to suffer as winter approached. Once Norbrook learned of Myers's situation, he thought he might collect the orphans and fatten them up for a quick profit. He assigned me to prepare the wagon and go with him on the ride to town. But we got there too late.

Norbrook and I entered to the smell of rotting meat. Flies clotted the air with excited buzzing. Here and there lay lumps of flesh, which a closer look revealed as dead children. Some twenty in all, they had each come to rest with their backs against a wall, curled in shapes that recalled the wombs they had not so long ago departed. None of them was older than three harvests, hardly old enough to do much walking, let alone tall enough or strong enough to solve the barred door and summon help. Had no one heard them cry for their mothers? For milk? Perhaps the noise in the surrounding streets had muffled their desperate wailing.

Norbrook had arranged for a physician, a Dr. LeMaire, to meet us at the pen and give the children a looking over. Minutes after we got there, he pushed open the door, expanding the wedge of light our entrance had created. He reached in his vest pocket and pressed a handkerchief to his nose and mouth, shook his head, and muttered softly. I noted his watering eyes and could not decide if he was overcome with grief or driven to tears by the smell.

From YONDER: A Novel by Jabari Asim. Copyright © 2022 by Jabari Asim. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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