Bookworm: Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.

You’ll always remember the break-up.


It started with a he-said, she-said moment forever burned in your mind. You remember where you stood, the words that were said (or not), the anger and the queasy feeling that a mistake was about to be made but you didn’t know whose it was.

Relationships come and go, but you never forget your first love and you never forget losing it, either.

Yet, what if you were separated by something beyond your mutual control? Would it be easy to find that love again? In the new novel Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr., one man aims to find out.

He called himself Sam because that’s what she had said he looked like he was. A “Sam,” and he told her she looked like a Tilda. So that’s what they called one another, even though Mistress had given them ridiculous Greek names when she brought them to her plantation.

Sam had fallen in love with Tilda in that naming minute, and they were inseparable. Mistress let them live together. They had a child together, too, but then Luke was killed and Sam was sold away.

Tilda was angry then, and she had a right to be. Sam hadn’t allowed himself to think of that, or of her, for 15 years, but once the North beat the South, he figured it was time to leave Philadelphia and find his wife.

Prudence Cafferty Kent was only acting on her father’s deathbed wishes.

With his last breath, he’d told her that he wanted her to go to Mississippi, where his plantation was, and build a school for Negro children as soon as the war was over. Prudence was strong-willed and single-minded, but she knew she couldn’t do it without Bonnie’s help.

Bonnie was a toddler when, years before, the Captain had purchased her, immediately freed her and raised her as his own. Prudence couldn’t remember life before Bonnie. They were sisters, even though one was milky-white and one was not.

When the Yankees came through and burned what was left of James McFarland’s plantation, Marse Jim went a little crazy. Maybe it was because the Yankees killed his son, Tilda wasn’t sure. She hated Marse Jim, but she felt sorry for him, too. She knew what it was like to lose a child. She’d lost love, too.

Have you ever read a book so good that you forgot you were reading? Yes, that’s what it’s like reading Freeman.

Pitts serves up a novel that’s both ugly and beautiful, with characters that you’ll feel honored to know, though it’ll hurt. This novel throws you down in the aftermath of war and pushes your face into it – gently – and then rubs. That’s a conundrum, for sure, but it’s also one of the finest Civil War novels I’ve ever read.

If you promised yourself one decent book this summer, this is it.