Summary and book reviews of Yonder by Jabari Asim

Yonder

A Novel

by Jabari Asim

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

The Water Dancer meets The Prophets in this spare, gripping, and beautifully rendered novel exploring love and friendship among a group of enslaved Black strivers in the mid-19th century.

They call themselves the Stolen. Their owners call them captives. They are taught their captors' tongues and their beliefs but they have a language and rituals all their own.

In a world that would be allegorical if it weren't saturated in harsh truths, Cato and William meet at Placid Hall, a plantation in an unspecified part of the American South. Subject to the whims of their tyrannical and eccentric captor, Cannonball Greene, they never know what harm may befall them: inhumane physical toil in the plantation's quarry by day, a beating by night, or the sale of a loved one at any moment. It's that cruel practice—the wanton destruction of love, the belief that Black people aren't even capable of loving—that hurts the most.

It hurts the reserved and stubborn William, who finds himself falling for Margaret, a small but mighty woman with self-possession beyond her years. And it hurts Cato, whose first love, Iris, was sold off with no forewarning. He now finds solace in his hearty band of friends, including William, who is like a brother; Margaret; Little Zander; and Milton, a gifted artist. There is also Pandora, with thick braids and long limbs, whose beauty calls to him.

Their relationships begin to fray when a visiting minister with a mysterious past starts to fill their heads with ideas about independence. He tells them that with freedom comes the right to choose the small things—when to dine, when to begin and end work—as well as the big things, such as whom and how to love. Do they follow the preacher and pursue the unknown? Confined in a landscape marked by deceit and uncertainty, who can they trust?

In an elegant work of monumental imagination that will reorient how we think of the legacy of America's shameful past, Jabari Asim presents a beautiful, powerful, and elegiac novel that examines intimacy and longing in the quarters while asking a vital question: What would happen if an enslaved person risked everything for love?

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...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In many ways, Yonder is a place we have been in literature before, but Asim adds several new twists. For one, Placid Hall is a place where skilled laborers live — all slaves weren't of the fields. The author also creates names for the categories of captive and owner: Stolen and Thief. Chapter after chapter, Asim confronts a suppressed history that is still being marginalized. Rituals. Whippings. Horrors. Hate. Brotherhood. Lust. His prose returns humanity to stolen people as he writes of how the slaves at Placid Hall crave love, acceptance, friendship and caring, evoking what bell hooks meant when she wrote, "Love is an action, never simply a feeling."..continued

Full Review Members Only (984 words).

(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

New York Times
With his handling of Black love, showing how it existed amid the worst circumstances, tender and memorable, Asim delivers a fresh, sweeping, must-read tale.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Novelist and cultural critic Asim delivers a searing and redemptive story of slavery and survival. Set in the antebellum South, it is narrated primarily by enslaved people who call themselves the 'Stolen' and white people 'Thieves'... At once intimate and majestic, the prose marries a gripping narrative with an unforgettable exploration of the power of stories, language, and hope. With a bold vision, Asim demonstrates his remarkable gifts.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Asim demonstrates all a novel can be: soaring and grounded, personal and epic, thrilling and quiet. A wonder-filled novel about the power of words and stories to bring hope to the most difficult situations.

Booklist (starred review)
A mesmerizing touch of magical realism…Asim vividly captures the daily rhythms of the Stolen's lives, in which harshness is punctuated by brief spells of joy. As the enslaved embark on a soaring adventure in pursuit of freedom, a gripping and satisfying crescendo caps this lyrical story.

Author Blurb Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World
Exceptional. A splendid addition to the library of fiction on American slavery, which—given the centuries it existed—is not as large as it could be. Skillfully wielding a number of literary tools, including a grand way with language, Asim reveals the slaves' everyday world away from the lash and brutality: the loves, the laughter, the age-old tussles with life. Yonder builds a permanent place in a reader's mind. Asim is to be applauded.

Author Blurb Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
Jabari Asim's masterful Yonder has no doubt set our Ancestors to dancing and rejoicing. A compelling and dazzling storyteller, Asim beautifully captures the depth of their bonds, intellect, and unwavering commitment to each other, honoring the fullness of their humanity against the backdrop of enslavement. This novel made me shout, cry, laugh, and, most of all, believe.

Author Blurb Margot Livesey, New York Times bestselling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
The magic of Yonder is the hope and love and devotion that shine from its pages despite the darkness and brutality that surround its loving, beloved characters. Asim's story is utterly absorbing. His people have wings; let them transport you.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Heartbreak Day and Family Separation During American Slavery

For American slaves, January 1 was a day to dread. For on that day, many were hired out to new plantations without warning, and some were sold off. Anxiety was rampant the evening before the new year, which was possibly the last time family members would see each other. It was a tumultuous night for parents wondering if their children would be snatched away come morning to fulfill a contract or create revenue for the plantation owner.

Abolitionist journalist William Cooper Nell coined the name "Heartbreak Day" for New Year's Day. A slave named Lewis Clarke said in 1842, "Of all the days in the year, the slaves dread New Year's Day the worst of any." Israel Campbell, who was born a slave in Kentucky and sold to an Ohio couple when he was ...

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