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The Purchase

by Linda Spalding

3 ratings
3.5 of 5
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reviews: 2
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list price: $29.99
also available: Paperback Paperback
category: Fiction
published: 2012
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Worthy of the GG

The story of a Quaker family who flees Pennsylvania for Virginia, and faces various moral dilemmas (re: slavery, war, etc.). Winner of the Governor's General Literary Award for Fiction, well deserved.

Librarian review

The Purchase

In Brandywine, Pennsylvania, in 1798, the Dickinson family is well respected in the Quaker community. Daniel earns a comfortable living in the family business, and along with his wife Rebecca, he raises his four children according to Quaker principles. When Rebecca is about to give birth to their fifth child, Daniel Dickinson hires a girl from a Methodist almshouse to help the family for a few weeks. Ruth Boyd cooks, cleans, and looks after the children while Rebecca rests in preparation for the birth. The birth does not go well; the baby is born sickly, and Rebecca dies. Rather than send her back to a squalid almshouse, Daniel asks Ruth to stay with his family and mind the children, a decision which shocks the Elders. In their view, a Methodist orphan is an unfit mother for a Quaker family, so the entire community responds by shunning the Dickinsons.

Daniel marries Ruth to be respectable, but he does not love her the way he did Rebecca. The new family leave Brandywine for the farmlands of Virginia, and soon after arriving, Daniel witnesses a slave auction. He is aghast at the cruel, dehumanizing attitudes, and feels a strong need to protect an especially vulnerable looking young boy from a life of misery. Daniel’s abolitionist principles are called into question when he realizes that the only way to spare the boy is to purchase him.

Equality and freedom are cherished Quaker values, but the Dickinsons soon learn that they are much harder to apply in their new Virginia home. Onesimus sleeps in a shelter outside of the main house, he works on the farm, and the children, though friendly, do not consider him a peer. He begins a relationship with a slave girl on a neighbouring farm, and when their son is born, the Dickinsons must decide how far they are willing to go to keep him safe.

The Purchase tells the story of a man who, for the very best of reasons, has based his life around decisions that compromise some aspect of his personal moral code. It depicts the complex realities of living by strong principles, and the difficulties that arise when some of those principles need to be sacrificed for the greater good.

This review appears on my blog at www.theteatimereader.wordpress.com.

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  • Short-listed, Trillium Book Award
  • Winner, Governor General's Literary Awards - Fiction
  • Short-listed, Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
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In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, a young Quaker father and widower, leaves his home in Pennsylvania to establish a new life. He sets out with two horses, a wagonful of belongings, his five children, a 15-year-old orphan wife, and a few land warrants for his future homestead. When Daniel suddenly trades a horse for a young slave, Onesimus, it sets in motion a struggle in his conscience that will taint his life forever, and sets in motion a chain of events that lead to two murders and the family's strange relationship with a runaway slave named Bett.

Stripped down and as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life, Spalding's writing is nothing short of stunning, as it instantly envelops the reader in the world and time of the novel, and follows the lives of unforgettable characters. Inspired by stories of the author's own ancestors, The Purchase is a resonant, powerful and timeless novel.

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Contributor notes

Born and raised in Kansas, LINDA SPALDING immigrated to Canada in 1982 from Hawaii. She is the author of three much earlier novels and two acclaimed works of non-fiction, The Follow, which was shortlisted for The Trillium Book Award and the Pearson Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize; and, most recently, Who Named the Knife. She received the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the Canadian literary community. She lives in Toronto, where she is the editor of Brick magazine.

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Editorial Review

Winner of the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award
Trillium Award Finalist - 2013

“With meticulous yet seamless attention to historical detail, Linda Spalding transports the reader to 18th century Virginia in her mesmerizing novel …. The Purchase is an epic novel in every way that matters – in scope, depth, and heart.” 
—Jury Citation , The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

"Spalding is a gifted prose stylist." 
Ottawa Citizen
"In The Purchase, one man's unsettling betrayal of his own moral code creates unforeseen ripples that sweep over multiple generations. Thanks to Spalding's compassion and the singular brilliance of her narration this transfixing novel weaves a tale that is both intimate in nature and, ultimately, huge in scope."
—Gil Adamson, author of The Outlander

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