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About The Book

The Water Dancer meets The Prophets in this spare, gripping, and beautifully rendered novel exploring love and friendship among a group of enslaved Black strivers in the mid-19th century.

They call themselves the Stolen. Their owners call them captives. They are taught their captors’ tongues and their beliefs but they have a language and rituals all their own.

In a world that would be allegorical if it weren’t saturated in harsh truths, Cato and William meet at Placid Hall, a plantation in an unspecified part of the American South. Subject to the whims of their tyrannical and eccentric captor, Cannonball Greene, they never know what harm may befall them: inhumane physical toil in the plantation’s quarry by day, a beating by night, or the sale of a loved one at any moment. It’s that cruel practice—the wanton destruction of love, the belief that Black people aren’t even capable of loving—that hurts the most.

It hurts the reserved and stubborn William, who finds himself falling for Margaret, a small but mighty woman with self-possession beyond her years. And it hurts Cato, whose first love, Iris, was sold off with no forewarning. He now finds solace in his hearty band of friends, including William, who is like a brother; Margaret; Little Zander; and Milton, a gifted artist. There is also Pandora, with thick braids and long limbs, whose beauty calls to him.

Their relationships begin to fray when a visiting minister with a mysterious past starts to fill their heads with ideas about independence. He tells them that with freedom comes the right to choose the small things—when to dine, when to begin and end work—as well as the big things, such as whom and how to love. Do they follow the preacher and pursue the unknown? Confined in a landscape marked by deceit and uncertainty, who can they trust?

In an elegant work of monumental imagination that will reorient how we think of the legacy of America’s shameful past, Jabari Asim presents a beautiful, powerful, and elegiac novel that examines intimacy and longing in the quarters while asking a vital question: What would happen if an enslaved person risked everything for love?

About The Author

Jabari Asim is a writer and multidisciplinary artist. He directs the MFA program in creative writing at Emerson College, where he is also the Elma Lewis Distinguished Fellow in Social Justice. His nonfiction books include The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why; What Obama Means: For Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future; Not Guilty: Twelve Black Men Speak Out on Law, Justice, and Life; and We Can’t Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival. His books for children include Whose Toes Are Those? and Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis. His works of fiction include A Taste of Honey and Only the Strong.

About The Readers

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (January 11, 2022)
  • Runtime: 8 hours and 16 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781797137759

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Raves and Reviews

"Chameleonic writer Asim’s second novel after A Taste of Honey (2010) gets historical with a cast
of enslaved Black characters—searingly called the Stolen, their white enslavers rightfully are
Thieves—who attempt to survive the atrocities of the antebellum South. “All of us have two
tongues,” Janina Edwards opens as the narrator. “The first is for them. A broken joke of
language . . . The second is for us. It is a song of dreams and drums, whispered promises and
incantations.” And yet for each of the Stolen, the intimacy of their communications with each
other “can bring us to ruin,” risking vulnerabilities that reveal fears, desperation, joy, and most
especially love. Each of the remarkable, seasoned narrators seems well aware how the stunning
beauty of Asim’s lyrical writing ironically serves to amplify the brutality woven throughout. Adam
Lazarre White is measured William, who, driven by an inner strength, leans toward a gentleness
nurtured by his love for Margaret, who is at turns desperate and determined in Joniece Abbott-
Pratt’s presentation. JD Jackson aches as soulful Cato. Lamarr Gulley inspires both suspicion
and hope as freedom-encouraging Preacher Ransom. A single production quibble looms: that
rare who-read-whom would have added closing excellence."

– Terry Hong, Booklist

"This is the beautiful story, painful in many places, of Cato and William, two enslaved men who meet in unimaginable conditions with the promise of freedom on the horizon. A talented cast, made up of Joniece Abbott–Pratt, Lamarr Gulley, JD Jackson, Adam Lazarre–White, Imani Jade Powers, and Janina Edwards, rise to the challenge of fleshing out the pain and beauty at the heart of this novel. Each narrator unflinchingly describes harsh conditions, separations of parents from children, and casual brutalities. Lazarre–White, Jackson, and Gulley provide rich baritones laced with soft Southern accents for the male characters. Abott–Pratt, Powers, and Edwards portray the strong, suffering women. Listeners will want to keep in mind the mature nature of this content and where they play these chapters."

– AudioFile Magazine

Awards and Honors

  • BCALA Literary Award Honor

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