The Eulogist by Terry Gamble
• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow;
1st Edition edition (January 22, 2019)
From the author of The Water Dancers and Good Family, an exquisitely crafted novel, set in Ohio in the decades leading to the Civil War, that illuminates the immigrant experience, the injustice of slavery, and the debts human beings owe to one another, witnessed through the endeavors of one Irish-American family.
Cheated out of their family estate in Northern Ireland after the Napoleonic Wars, the Givens family arrives in America in 1819. But in coming to this new land, they have lost nearly everything. Making their way west they settle in Cincinnati, a burgeoning town on the banks of the mighty Ohio River whose rise, like the Givenses’ own, will be fashioned by the colliding forces of Jacksonian populism, religious evangelism, industrial capitalism, and the struggle for emancipation. After losing their mother in childbirth and their father to a riverboat headed for New Orleans, James, Olivia, and Erasmus Givens must fend for themselves.
Ambitious James eventually marries into a prosperous family, builds a successful business, and rises in Cincinnati society. Taken by the spirit and wanderlust, Erasmus becomes an itinerant preacher, finding passion and heartbreak as he seeks God. Independent-minded Olivia, seemingly destined for spinsterhood, enters into a surprising partnership and marriage with Silas Orpheus, a local doctor who spurns social mores.
When her husband suddenly dies from an infection, Olivia travels to his family home in Kentucky, where she meets his estranged brother and encounters the horrors of slavery firsthand. After abetting the escape of one slave, Olivia is forced to confront the status of a young woman named Tilly, another slave owned by Olivia’s brother-in-law. When her attempt to help Tilly ends in disaster, Olivia tracks down Erasmus, who has begun smuggling runaways across the river—the borderline between freedom and slavery.
As the years pass, this family of immigrants initially indifferent to slavery will actively work for its end—performing courageous, often dangerous, occasionally foolhardy acts of moral rectitude that will reverberate through their lives for generations to come.
There's nothing like a generational family saga that's also steeped in history, historical characters, events, and a deep look at the tragedy of "the good ole days" with lack of sanitation, corpse stealing, rampant spread of disease, manipulation of women and children, and the absolute gut-wrenching and mind boggling horrors of slavery.
Along with the evils of the day came those like James, Olivia, and Erasmus Givens...who find themselves unable to turn away, even as life deals them personally with their own losses. The Abolitionist Movement is well underway...but things are never as simple as they seem. How does one family fight for right in a world where the laws don't support right?
If you enjoy books about family, religion, the business of artificial light in America (candle-making and supply, gaslight, and at the end a teaser for the electric light that is to come), immigrants, literature, early teaching and medicine, and settler life in America, you'll dig right into The Eulogist as I did.
I could not help but agree with Owen that religion was divisive. The Methodists looked down their noses at the waterlogged Baptists; the Presbyterians scorned the Catholics; and no one put stock in the Quakers, who were, to a one, abolitionists. (68)
Such was the sensibility of Cincinnati that a woman of contrarian opinion could drive away commerce like pigs before a stick. (71)
"In the evenings, Miss Givens, I steal corpses." (88)
Summoning the words of Fanny Wright, I raised my chin. "It does seem obscene to own another soul." (93)
"If there is a God - and like you, I wonder - would He not want us to turn our efforts toward saving each other rather than madly fretting if we ourselves are saved?" (95)
Indeed, it was becoming de rigueur for young women to hack off their tresses and sell them, particularly when they had no other means of support. Flyers went out soliciting locks, countered by tracts that compared the practice to prostitution. (119)
"We loved Tilly very much, Mr. Handsome," said Hatsepha. "It was an outrage what was done to her." (238)
As the horse began to trot, Erasmus doffed his old black preacher's hat and threw it into the air. It spun high, caught the sunlight, seeming to hover, until the boy broke loose and ran to catch it. (253)
I took off my spectacles, feeling suffocated as if by a miasma on the river. "The article," I said, "does not mention a daughter." (287)
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