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Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings: A Novel
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Published:
Penguin Publishing Group 2016
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Description
“Dazzling. . . The most revolutionary reimagining of Jefferson’s life ever.” –Ron Charles, Washington Post
Winner of the Crook’s Corner Book Prize
Longlisted for the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A debut novel about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, in whose story the conflict between the American ideal of equality and the realities of slavery and racism played out in the most tragic of terms.

 
Novels such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird and Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks are a part of a long tradition of American fiction that plumbs the moral and human costs of history in ways that nonfiction simply can't. Now Stephen O’Connor joins this company with a profoundly original exploration of the many ways that the institution of slavery warped the human soul, as seen through the story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. O’Connor’s protagonists are rendered via scrupulously researched scenes of their lives in Paris and at Monticello that alternate with a harrowing memoir written by Hemings after Jefferson’s death, as well as with dreamlike sequences in which Jefferson watches a movie about his life, Hemings fabricates an "invention" that becomes the whole world, and they run into each other "after an unimaginable length of time" on the New York City subway. O'Connor is unsparing in his rendition of the hypocrisy of the Founding Father and slaveholder who wrote "all men are created equal,” while enabling Hemings to tell her story in a way history has not allowed her to. His important and beautifully written novel is a deep moral reckoning, a story about the search for justice, freedom and an ideal world—and about the survival of hope even in the midst of catastrophe.
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Format:
Adobe EPUB eBook, Kindle Book, OverDrive Read
Street Date:
04/05/2016
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780698410336
ASIN:
B011IUSQ2Y
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Citations
APA Citation (style guide)

Stephen O'Connor. (2016). Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings: A Novel. Penguin Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Stephen O'Connor. 2016. Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings: A Novel. Penguin Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Stephen O'Connor, Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings: A Novel. Penguin Publishing Group, 2016.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Stephen O'Connor. Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings: A Novel. Penguin Publishing Group, 2016.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2022. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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title
Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings
fullDescription
“Dazzling. . . The most revolutionary reimagining of Jefferson’s life ever.” –Ron Charles, Washington Post
Winner of the Crook’s Corner Book Prize
Longlisted for the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A debut novel about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, in whose story the conflict between the American ideal of equality and the realities of slavery and racism played out in the most tragic of terms.

 
Novels such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird and Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks are a part of a long tradition of American fiction that plumbs the moral and human costs of history in ways that nonfiction simply can't. Now Stephen O’Connor joins this company with a profoundly original exploration of the many ways that the institution of slavery warped the human soul, as seen through the story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. O’Connor’s protagonists are rendered via scrupulously researched scenes of their lives in Paris and at Monticello that alternate with a harrowing memoir written by Hemings after Jefferson’s death, as well as with dreamlike sequences in which Jefferson watches a movie about his life, Hemings fabricates an "invention" that becomes the whole world, and they run into each other "after an unimaginable length of time" on the New York City subway. O'Connor is unsparing in his rendition of the hypocrisy of the Founding Father and slaveholder who wrote "all men are created equal,” while enabling Hemings to tell her story in a way history has not allowed her to. His important and beautifully written novel is a deep moral reckoning, a story about the search for justice, freedom and an ideal world—and about the survival of hope even in the midst of catastrophe.
reviews
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        April 11, 2016
        O'Connor (Orphan Trains) delves with great acuity and depth into the mind of Thomas Jefferson, who required sexual intimacy from Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman, for nearly 40 years. Interweaving contemporary documents, narrative, fable, and fantasy, O'Connor creates startlingly vivid portraits of his major characters as well as the many injustices of slavery. The weighty political events of the day barely surface in the background as the novel focuses almost claustrophobically on the fraught intimacy between Jefferson and Hemings, from their humiliating first encounters to the steady companionship that evolves as they age. O'Connor takes additional imaginative leaps to further illuminate their relationship, including Hemings's fictional autobiography, scenes in which Jefferson watches a movie about his life, and having the two meet on a subway in modern times. Hemings is depicted as a proud, strikingly beautiful woman possessed of intelligence and good sense, conflicted in her relationship with the master she grows to love, but O'Connor's real interest lies in understanding how a man so deeply committed to the ideals of democracy could be inherently racist, "both coward and hypocrite," and thus "abjectly human." The book meditates in turn on perception, justice, hatred, and evil, making visible—though never rationalizing—the profound contradictions between Jefferson's philosophical ideals and his private life. This is a challenging, illuminating, and entirely original work that's broad enough to encompass joy, penance, "complexity, ambiguity," and "our muddy human souls."

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        April 15, 2016

        O'Connor (writing, Sarah Lawrence; two collections of short fiction) began writing the story while concurrently conducting historical research. The novel, which centers on the complicated and conflicted relationship of apostle of liberty Thomas Jefferson and his enslaved mistress Sally Hemings, emerged in fragments--the author wrote across genres and about parts of his subjects' real or imagined lives. The result is a jarring exploration of big themes rooted in the contrary behaviors of ordinary people, presented as a kaleidoscope show juxtaposing straightforward narration with fictionalized memoir, fabulist outpourings, bald listings of historical fact, reflections on the poetry of colors, all moving from past to present and back again. In energetic prose, O'Connor probes how a person's hold over another pollutes them both and examines the inherent conflict in relationships among people involved in an institution as morally repugnant as slavery. VERDICT The sweep of narrative, quality of writing, intensity of feeling, and boldness of thought make this debut novel a strong candidate for major awards. [See Prepub Alert, 10/26/15.]

        Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        November 15, 2015

        O'Connor's first novel, which tracks the nearly four-decade-long relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, is part rich realism and part fantasy, as Jefferson watches a movie about his life and encounters Hemings on the subway.

        Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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“Dazzling. . . The most revolutionary reimagining of Jefferson’s life ever.” –Ron Charles, Washington Post
Winner of the Crook’s Corner Book Prize
Longlisted for the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A debut novel about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, in whose story the conflict between the American ideal of equality and the realities of slavery and racism played out in the most tragic of terms.

 
Novels such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird and Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks are a part of a long tradition of American fiction that plumbs the moral and human costs of history in ways that nonfiction simply can't. Now Stephen O’Connor joins this company with a profoundly original exploration of the many ways that the institution of slavery...
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