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Libertie

by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge X
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2021, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2022, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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There are currently 8 reader reviews for Libertie
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Sonia Francis

Freedom for some. Not for all
Kaitlyn Greenidge has “hit it out of the park” with this coming of age novel set during the reconstruction era in America, specifically Brooklyn where this story begins in 1860.
For what was suppose to be a significant chapter for civil rights, it was not an easy road for African Americans by any means.
Libertie Simpson realizes she has many strikes against her; a woman, and black. To go a step further and add salt to injury, her mother who is a physician constantly reminds her that she is even too black to pass like her for she is light skin.
A layered narrative about colorism, struggles for blacks during the reconstruction era and finding your own place and space and owning it.
I was annoyed with Libertie with the poor choices she made, going to Haiti and to her chagrin was subordinate to the man she married. She still was not free.
This book echoes Brit Bennett,Vanishing Half, albeit steeped in historical events, specifically reconstruction in America 1861-1865. What does freedom really mean? Does the freedom of one impinges on the other? A superb page turner of this young woman’s painful coming of age period. In the end I felt better that she returned to America from Haiti and just maybe will forge a path for future generations. I couldn’t put this book down. It swooped me up not only in the arms of Kaitlyn Greenidge, but also Zora Neale Hurston and Yaa Guadiana and that is a good thing. Historical fiction is my favorite genres and Libertie has a place in my library.
R. David Johnson MBA

A Narrative Of Great Complexities That Still Allows Readers To Comprehend The Full Context Of The Story With Simplicity And Mixed-Emotions
Kaitlyn Greenidge, a prior finalist for New York Times Critics’ Top 10 Books for 2016, has once again awed her readers with her latest novel, Libertie. Inspired by the real-life Dr. Susan Smith McKinney-Steward (the third African American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States), the novel was selected being one of the 100 Notable Books of 2021 by the New York Times Book Review. Libertie is a narrative about coming of age during the Reconstruction Era and living in a free Black Community, now present day Brooklyn, New York.

The main character in the novel is young Libertie Sampson. She is the proud daughter of widowed mother, Dr. Catherine Sampson (real-life Dr. Susan Smith McKinney-Steward). Libertie is Dr. Sampson’ only child and, therefore, constantly reminded of her mother’s vision for a future of the two of them working alongside one another. Through the support of the local Ladies’ Intelligence Society (LIS), Dr. Sampson opens her own practice in Brooklyn. (The real Dr. McKinney-Steward also co-founded the Brooklyn Women’s Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary.) Consequently, being the sole daughter child of an exceptional woman (and a forerunner of her time), is an overwhelming footstep to follow for young Libertie. Rather than being one who is exemplary like her mother, Libertie would rather enjoy a simpler life; a life where she can define her own freedom. Libertie is the narrator throughout the novel, and she is purposefully given the name, Libertie, by her mother. Throughout the novel, Libertie, wholeheartedly, tries to define what freedom actually means not only to her but for a young Black woman also. For certainty, Libertie wants to be free from her mother’s most stringent expectations.

Greenidge is clearly fascinated with the Reconstruction Era; and as a novelist, her fascination evidenced throughout Libertie. For instance, in one scene in the novel, the New York City draft riots are mentioned; where in 1863 white New York citizens protested new federal draft laws. White mobs made assaults on freed Black citizens and went as far as to set fire to an orphanage. Libertie witnesses the aftermath of the carnage from these riots when Black American citizens begin arriving on boats in Brooklyn’s harbor from Manhattan. From this personal account, Libertie becomes enthusiastic in helping her doctor mother in providing aid and treatment to these refugees in need. In this particular scene (and throughout the novel), Libertie continues to define the true meaning of freedom.

Kaitlyn Greenidge’s novel, Libertie, is one of great complexities that still allows readers to comprehend the full context of the story with simplicity and mixed emotions. This novel is intertwined with actual historical events, historical fiction, and coming of age during a period in United States history that is vaguely mentioned in great detail in history books. Readers of all backgrounds will relate to the characters and circumstances of Greenidge’s Libertie. Greenidge reminds us in Libertie the everyday intricacies and compromises that each of us make to find our true purpose in life; and to preserve a better life into our future that gives us even more freedom than that of what we have today.

[This review has been abbreviated to remove plot spoilers]
Diane

Libertie
Interesting topic and characters but just did not capture me. I learned about black communities pre- and post-civil war. It also was about strong women who triumph despite difficult odds. The only thing negative for me is that I really did not fully connect with any of the characters so I found the book easy to put down. I liked this book. I learned a lot but just was not taken by the characters. On the other hand, a fascinating story and beautiful writing
Lynne Lambert

Let Freedom Be Free to Be
Kaitlyn Greenidge’s novel Libertie is many things: a coming of age story, a glimpse into post Civil War America, a picture of a free black community in 19th Century Brooklyn, an exploration of the rich culture and religion of Haiti. It is a novel which explores, above all, the nature of freedom. It asks the reader to consider the struggles of slaves who escape bondage only to be unable to adapt to freedom.

It introduces free-born characters who are unable to detach themselves from the shackles of personal relationships. The title character, Libertie, is a beautiful dark-skinned negress who never seems able to free herself from the demands and expectations of her successful mother, an emotionally distant doctor who is unable or unwilling to show Libertie the love she craves. The fact that her mother is iconic for her time, a free black female doctor is more than intimidating. Fearing disappointing her mother’s expectations for her, Libertie impulsively marries a handsome young Haitian doctor. He carries Libertie off to a new life in Haiti which is seductive and difficult, emotionally challenging and eye-opening.

Life in this new environment with a complicated new family is not easy for Libertie, but it is in Haiti that she begins to understand who she aspires to be. Freedom is many things in the novel; it is singing and suicide, education and embracing pagan gods. It is a form of lying to oneself and others. It is offered as love and support. For Libertie, freedom is defined in the challenge she throws out to her husband when she says, “You have freedom to define yourself, and I do not have any.” Self-definition is at the heart of the narrative. It propels Libertie on every path she chooses moving toward and away from the others in her life. The novel is rich in historical and descriptive detail which adds to its appeal.
Power Reviewer
Betty Taylor

Interesting piece of history
“Libertie” was hard for me to get into. While the writing itself is beautiful, the story did not draw me in. While I enjoyed the first portion of the book, I lost interest after Libertie ran off to get married. It did have some very interesting aspects though.

There were moments of beautifully lyrical writing. The book, inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States, was well researched. The book addresses several themes - complex mother-daughter relationships, feminism, and searching for what freedom means for a young female dark-skinned woman in the aftermath of the Civil War. It is also a look at life in Haiti, where women are still subservient to men.

An eye-opener from the book, for me, was how much easier life was for light-skinned Blacks who could pass for White than for the dark-skinned. It was also interesting - shocking - reading of some of the experiments done to treat people. The sea horse one. early in the book. still has me shaking my head. A powerful portion of the book that applies to present days is how even when a person may be freed there is lasting emotional damage that can result in serious mental health issues. We see that today in some of our refugees.

This is a good book for exploring another piece of American history that many of us were unaware of.

Thank you to Algonquin Books for generously supplying me with a review copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Veronica

THE POINT
I have to give three stars to the writer of this novel. But I was very disappointed. We read this for book club and everyone had the same response, "what was the point." The cover is awesome. It definitely grabbed me. Even the beginning of the story kept me going, but as I continued to read I kept asking myself what is the point? Yes, mother and daughter relationship (flat) falling in love with the wrong man (flat). The ending??? What happened? I liked finding out about Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward (did my own research). I just found the story dull. The most interesting to me was the essay and interview.
Christine Clapp

Disappointing
Received free to read and review- it was the “daughter trying to establish her own identity” genre- trying to separate herself from her mother and ultimately coming to terms with it - some of the writing to describe the insights were very well done but, to me, lackluster and no unique take. Learned bit about early herbal remedies used by doctors and Creole culture in Haiti.
Dan

Sort of freedom
Reconstruction-era black freedman citizenship is explored, along with the significance of relative “blackness,” in reference to actual skin color. Freedom in general is the main theme (“Libertie”). A twelve year old girl -very dark-skinned - assists her light-skinned physician mother in her clinic, vaguely in the North. The father has died around the time of the girl’s birth.

The mother-daughter relationship is contentious. Libertie does not seem to have “agency,” and seems to be reactive to most situations. Her mother insists she aid in the clinic. Her mother sends her to college. Emmanuel pushed for marriage, and pushed for Liberty to move to Haiti.

Until the final chapters, Libertie as a person did not interest me. Only as she comes to grips with her life choices did she seem of interest. I found this book neither compelling, nor particularly interesting.
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