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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
"Any Known Blood" is the story of Langston Cane V and his journey of discovery through five generations of an African American Canadian family living since the 1850s in either the US and Canada. Lawrence Hill's own background provided the inspiration and depth for this multilayered family saga that he weaves like a rich tapestry of characters, places and events. The language is personal and direct, the protagonist's account of his quest interlaced with excerpts from his forebears' diaries or letters and enriched with lively and witty dialog.

Hill's narrator, Langston, recently divorced and having just lost his job, is unsure who he is. He can no longer pretend that his black-white racial heritage is of little importance to him. He begins hoping that reconnecting with his past might provide some answers his search for identity. The story moves fluidly between Langston's present life that includes some minor dramas and discoveries about the previous four Langstons. His father, who had defied the Cane family tradition by marrying a white Canadian woman, is a major public figure and anti-racist activist, as well as a medical doctor in his hometown, Oakville, Ontario. Oakville was once the end of the Underground Railroad that enabled many, such as Langston I, to escape slavery in the USA. Langston the Fourth is a great story teller who has been imparting family legends of each generation of Canes, one story at the time.

Seeking out the missing elements in the father's accounts of the past, Langston moves temporarily to Baltimore, where his aunt, Millicent, estranged from her family for many years, has much to contribute to his search - if she is willing to talk to him at all. "Mill" is quite a character and wonderfully contradictory. She is torn between her love for family and growing affection for the nephew and her rejection of inter-racial marriages and their offspring. Langston is introduced to much of daily life by his new friend, Yoyo, a refugee from Cameroon. The description of Baltimore locales and its people is vibrant and entertaining, Langston's encounters with Mill are quite hilarious. Recording the findings of his family research, Langston embarks on writing the novel.

Historical events, such as the attempted take-over of Harpers Ferry by John Brown, are integrated with ease into the story, as are historical figures like Brown himself and Frederick Douglass, known for their different approaches to abolition. His description of the actual Ku-Klux-Klan attack in Ontario at the time of Langston's grandfather is hauntingly realistic. Details are as factual as possible with Hill clarifying any fictional adaptations he made for the benefit of his novel.

"Any Known Blood" is a beautifully crafted and engaging novel that brings many voices to life, fictionalized and real, set against the backdrop of factual events that shaped African American as well as Canadian history. [Friederike Knabe]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This review was originally posted on my blog, The Baking Bookworm ([...]).

I have to preface this review by letting you all know that I'm a big fan of Lawrence Hill after reading (and loving) his "Book of Negroes" (known in the USA as "Someone Knows My Name"). It was a fantastic book so I knew that Mr Hill had some mighty big shoes to fill in order to impress me. My verdict? Lawrence Hill continues to amaze me with another outstanding book. While I still feel that "The Book of Negroes" was a better read this comes in as a very close second.

As I was reading the book I kept trying to put my finger on what exactly makes Hill's books stand out. The only thing that I can come up with is that there seems to be such as ease in his storytelling. His story flows so smoothly, even with the jumping back and forth between generations. I am able to immerse myself into his stories and get totally and utterly captivated. That's what makes a great book for me.
His characters aren't perfect but they are believable. Each of the Langston Canes has his own struggles and strengths but Aunt Mill is, hands down, my favourite character. While she is a quirky old gal, she has a deep love for her family. Reading how her personal values and attitude are at odds with the growing feelings she has for her nephew is what made her stand out for me.

One of Lawrence Hill's strengths as a writer is that he has the ability to teach his readers about serious topics with such ease and compassion. The reader witnesses the struggles that the Langston Canes had from slavery, to freedom, to struggling with their new freedom (being free but not necessarily treated as equals) and finally to education and success. We also get a look into how an interracial marriage was perceived by some as well as the issue within the black community in regards to the darkness of a person's skin tone. That's a lot of different issues within one book but Hill makes it work.

Now, I will admit, and warn, that there is quite a lot of jumping back and forth between the various Langston Canes. This could make the story muddled and confusing but Hill makes it easy for the reader to keep track of which Langston Cane the story is following by providing a family tree at the beginning of the book which I used often. One would think that giving five main characters all with the same name it would make for a very confusing read but Hill gives each of these men such a individual personality and voice that soon after meeting the new Langston Cane it quickly became apparent that we were dealing with a new character all his own

Lastly, I love the fact that this book is partially based in southern Ontario (Oakville and Toronto). It made me proud as a Canadian to learn how Oakville was one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad and how so many Canadians and Americans helped runaway slaves to reach freedom here in the Great White North.

This is a wonderfully descriptive story that sheds light on factual events in American and Canadian history as well as merging those with a truly memorable fictional tale that details the interesting lives of five generations of Langston Canes. This hard to put down book showcases the enduring spirit of people and the love of family. Recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
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on November 7, 2015
An excellent work. Lawrence Hill is a brilliant writer and weaves a powerful story of generations of blacks in the U.S. and Canada. The characters are likeable and the story original, the writing is poetic and the plot gripping. As I was reading the book, I was often afraid I would miss my subway stop because of how engrossing it was! Highly recommended to all.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2009
This is a fantastic book. Very engrossing. He manages to bring all the characters to life. I have enjoyed all his books, and have bought extra copies to give to friends.
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