Cover image for A long way from home
A long way from home
Briscoe, Connie.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : HarperCollins Publishers, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 348 pages ; 25 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.3 18.0 41460.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



From Connie Briscoe, the New York Times bestselling author of Sisters & Lovers and Big Girls Don't Cry, comes a lyrical and moving tour de force that is her most daringly ambitious novel to date--a multigenerational story of slavery freedom, and the indestructible bonds of love and family witnessed through the lives of three unforgettable African-American women.

Shimmering with heartache and hope, A Long Way from Home recounts the joys, pain, and ultimate triumph of three generations: Susie; her daughter, Clara; and her granddaughter, Susan. Born and reared as house slaves on Montpelier, the Virginia plantation of President James Madison and his wife, Dolley Madison, they are united by love, by a fierce devotion to each other and their fellow slaves, and by a growing desire for freedom--a dream that will finally come to fruition for Susan at the end of the Civil War.

This hauntingly beautiful novel opens in the peaceful Piedmont area of Virginia. Trained as a house slave since childhood, Susie enjoys the privileges that her position as maid to Miss Dolley provides her and Clara. For Susie life holds no mystery, no promise beyond the boundaries of the plantation itself--a lesson she tries to impart to the dreamy Clara, who longs to control her own destiny despite her mother's frightening admonition: "You don't know a thing about freedom, 'cause I don't know anything about it. It takes money and know-how to live free. You don't just up and do it."

Life will change for both mother and daughter, though, with the death of James Madison and the departure of his wife for her town house, events that leave the estate in the hands of Dolley's profligate son, Todd. As a result of his neglectful stewardship, the plantation soon falls to a series of owners, each posing a new threat to Susie and Clara, and the other longtime Madison slaves with whom the two women have shared their entire lives.

Amidst these devastating changes, Clara grows into womanhood and becomes a mother herself, giving birth to two light-skinned daughters, Ellen and Susan. Yet the threat of separation that has shaped her life is soon a reality when her younger daughter, Susan, is sold to a wealthy businessman in Richmond. Susan must create a new life for herself in this bustling city, a life that will be filled with both terror and hope . And it is in Civil War-torn Richmond that she will find love and realize the long-held dream of her ancestors: freedom.

In A Long Way from Home, Connie Briscoe vividly recreates Southern life and the ambivalent, shifting relationships on both sides of the color divide, from the cruelty and insidious benevolence of white owners to the deep yearnings and complex emotions of the slaves themselves. This poignant, powerful story pays homage to the African-American experience and to the ancestors, both black and white, whose lives and histories are indelibly entwined with our own.

Author Notes

Connie Briscoe is a writer and editor. She was born on December 31, 1952 in Washington, D.C. After completing her college education, Briscoe became a researcher for a computer firm and later and editor.

Briscoe, who is hearing impaired, published an article in a health magazine. Briscoe published Sisters and Lovers and Big Girls Don't Cry. Sisters and Lovers was sold to television for adaptation as a miniseries.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Briscoe (Big Girls Don't Cry) reconstructs her family history in this dense and plot-driven tale. Daughter of a chambermaid and of a driver at a neighboring property, 10-year-old Clara is a house slave at retired president James Madison's Montpelier plantation. When "massa" dies, the rhythm of their lives is disrupted, and Madison's stepson's poor management throws Montpelier into chaos, leading to its inevitable sale to new owners. Soon afterward, Clara gives birth to daughters Ellen and Susan, but will tell them their only that their father is white. They adjust to a series of owners over several years, but the family is fractured when Ellen runs away and Susan is bought as a gift for Lizbeth, the daughter of Mr. Willard, a wealthy Richmond banker and former Montpelier owner who is connected to Susan's past. Off the plantation for the first time, Susan is sometimes mistaken for white in public, giving her a glimpse of the complicated freedom of "passing." She meets and eventually marries Oliver Armistead, a respected free black, amid the rumblings of impending civil war. After the war, the Willards are left in financial ruin, and so agree to let Susan leave Richmond with Oliver. Only then can she answer the mysteries of her paternity and discover the fate of her scattered family. Briscoe's characters, especially Susan, are largely appealing, and the novel's extended chronology is informative. While the book's conclusion is unsurprising, its author's personal exploration of her family's history (Susan is Briscoe's great-great-grandmother) is able historical fiction, although character development is sacrificed to a panoramic view. 150,000 first printing; $350,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This historical novel follows a family of slaves living in Virginia from the antebellum period to after the Civil War. It focuses on Susan, who grows up on a country plantation but is sold to a new master in Richmond. The separation from her family and familiar surroundings is painful, as is the adjustment to life in the city. Although she is treated better, she is still unable to fulfill her own dreams. Then she meets and falls in love with Oliver, a free black man, but their newfound freedom is tempered by personal tragedies and the difficulties blacks faced in the postwar South. The main characters are real people discovered during the author's investigations into her own ancestry. Reader Audra McDonald ably expresses the sadness of separation, the moments of joy, and the frustration of not being in control of one's own fate. Recommended for public library fiction collections.--Catherine Swenson, Norwich Univ. Lib., Northfield, VT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.