A novel about the life of the lone surviver of John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid as told by the survivor, Onion, a young slave boy freed by Brown in Kansas and who lives disguised as a girl with his gang. I read the novel as I was working through the antebellum volumes of the Oxford History of the United States series. It seemed to me that McBride had soaked his fictional narrative into the cracks of the history and then presented the composite from a perfectly beautiful (and perfectly humane) angle.
When I described this mix of humour, history and politics to the Beav, he said it reminded him of Latin American fiction, which is interesting; there is an echo there even if it’s far off.
Threading through everything are ruminations and speeches about masculinity, “being a man” and race. These feel like the point where the novel hitches itself to our contemporary discourse both as a question and as a challenge.