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About the Book


Owen Brown, an old man wracked with guilt and living alone in the California hills, answers a query from an historian who is writing about the life and times of Owen's famous abolitionist father, John Brown. In an effort to release the demons of his past so that he can die in peace, Owen casts back his memory to his youth, and the days of the Kansas Wars which led up to the raid on Harper's Ferry. As he begins describing his childhood in Ohio, in Western Pennsylvania, and in the mountain village of North Elba, NY, Owen reveals himself to be a deeply conflicted youth, one whose personality is totally overshadowed by the dominating presence of his father. A tanner of hides and an unsuccessful wholesaler of wool, John Brown is torn between his yearnings for material success and his deeply passionate desire to rid the United States of the scourge of slavery. Having taken an oath to God to dedicate his life and the lives of his children to ending slavery, he finds himself constantly thwarted by his ever-increasing debts due to a series of disastrous business ventures. As he drags his family from farmstead to farmstead in evasion of the debt collectors, he continues his vital work on the Underground Railroad, escorting escaped slaves into Canada. As his work brings him into contact with great abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and other figures from that era, Brown finds his commitment to action over rhetoric growing ever more fervent. But it is his son Owen--slowly maturing from a quiet, nervous young man into a bloodthirsty warrior--who finally urges his father toward the path of violence. This is the story of a rural family's wrenching transformation from anti-slavery agitators into political terrorists, and finally, tragically into martyrs.

by Russell Banks

  • Publication Date: January 27, 1999
  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060930861
  • ISBN-13: 9780060930868