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Linda Spalding's new novel The Purchase is a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. Trust me, it's an absolute must read.

1798. Daniel Dickinson is a devout Quaker. But when his wife dies leaving him with five young children and he quickly marries Ruth, a fifteen year old orphan, he is cast out of the fellowship. With no home and no community, he then packs his family in a wagon and heads to Virginia to homestead. At an auction to buy needed farming tools, Daniel instead ends up with a young slave boy. As an abolitionist, this goes against everything he believes in. This purchase is the catalyst for a series of events that will change the lives of family, friends, enemies and more.

I literally hurtled through the first part of The Purchase. Spalding drew me into the lives of the Dickinson family. The characters are exceptionally well drawn. Daniel struggles with his ownership of Onesimus, his marriage to a girl he doesn't even know, his efforts to build a new life for his children in a wilderness that he is ill prepared for and trying to follow his beliefs. His oldest daughter Mary is stubborn, petulant, wilful but also kind and giving. But not to her stepmother. But it is quiet, silent Ruth that I was most drawn to. And to the slave Bett as well. There is a large cast of characters, each bringing a turn in the tale. And all elicit strong emotions and reactions. The interactions between the players sets up an almost tangible sense of foreboding.

I stopped after part one, which ends on a cataclysmic note, to gather my thoughts. Where could the story go from here? I started part two a few days later and didn't put the book down until I turned the last page. And then I sat and thought again.

Spalding's prose are rich, raw, powerful and oh, so evocative. She explores so much in The Purchase - freedom, faith, family, love, loss and more.

On reading the author's notes, I discovered that The Purchase is based on Spalding's own family history. She visited sites and settings that are used in the book. I think the personal connection added so much to the book.

Brilliant. One of my top reads for 2012. Can lit rocks!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon October 5, 2012
Linda Spalding is a writer based in Toronto. The Purchase is the story of a Quaker family that settles in Virginia in 1798.

Though the Quakers were abolitionist - opposed to slavery - through an inadvertent, almost delirious purchase, Daniel Dickinson finds himself the owner of a young slave boy, Onesimus.

This is an exceptionally well-crafted novel, and the writing style is very evocative of the period and authentic in its details: historical fiction at its very best.

It is often hard for us to understand today the theme of "man against nature", and how unforgiving the American wilderness was before it was settled. Throughout this great novel, there is a constant sense of how difficult the circumstances of day-to-day life were during this period.

There is also a very finely drawn portrait of the ubiquity of Christian belief at the time. Though Daniel owns a copy of the Aeneid, a biblical interpretation of the world is omnipresent. There may be differences between denominations in their interpretation of the bible, but there is universal acknowledgement that biblical quotes explain everything of consequence in the world, including an unbreakable natural law.

The reality of slavery is conveyed without exaggeration, but with brutal, heart-breaking honesty.

Early in the novel there is a gripping scene in which Onesimus breaks his leg, and Mary, the elder daughter of the family runs desperately to seek assistance at the nearest farm. She has taken the lot of this slave boy to heart, and we sense her desperation as she worries about him, and her strong sense of relief when she is able to help him. She genuinely regards him as a human being, whereas for others he is essentially an animal to be worked, like an ox or a horse.

Linda Spalding has done an absolutely brilliant job of creating an enthralling story, with impeccable writing, page after page.

A truly great novel, 5 stars!
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on December 2, 2012
This book makes you think about so many things. The title, surrounding a purchase made by the main character Daniel which changes the trajectory of his life. The tree pictured on the front of the book also plays huge significance in the book. The story is so enthraling and thought provoking. But its the writing that just grabs you and sweeps you into this story. I found myself rereading passages over as they were so moving and so well written.
One of my favorites of this book, and it has many; is the 2 pages 170-171, right before part 2, and also pages 180-184. But the book is so well written, its really the entire story. Loved this book. I look forward to her next book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 7, 2013
This novel didn't do it for me, and I will briefly try to explain why.

First of all, it wasn't the writing style. Spalding did everything with her story she could, and this book was not difficult to read through.

However, the story itself falls into a fairly predictable mode. A moralistic, weak man is cast out of his community for his transgressions, then moves to another community with different values where he is unable to maintain his morality and self-respect. His family falls apart with his children going different ways. As the disaster develops, we come to a final crisis, and then the novel finishes with an ambiguous, vaguely redemptive conclusion.

Some of the avenues are interesting and the issue of slavery in the book is handled with wisdom, in my opinion. But in the final analysis, I can't call this an outstanding book.
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on January 18, 2016
I really enjoyed the story.
I'd like to have known more detail about why Daniel & his children were banished and Daniel was not well fleshed out. That said, I found the story quite interesting and never a boring spot throughout.

I also appreciated that many aspects of the story 'seemed' to not give reasons or justification but the author eventually revealed those reasons as the story unfolded. We, as readers especially, need that sort of mystery. These temporary mysteries in a novel provide interest, curiosity and wonder.

It was also revealing to read about the slaves and the different attitudes towards them from an author who has researched his own family's background.

I'm glad I read this novel. Nothing at all disappointing about it.
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on April 14, 2013
This book is fascinating and I would recommend it to anyone with Quaker ancestry or ancestry from the frontier territory of the US.

My only hesitation is that I wish she would have looked more at the effects of female exploitation and the full scope of the "bad Quakerism." This man violated many of the basic prinicples of Quakers but the original problem (and violation) was that he and his deceased wife had too many children too fast (the Quakers were big into family planning and had a concept of child development, understanding you needed to invest in each child, and that human beings were not made to have many children, as the female mortality rates in pregnancy and delivery showed). Then he accomplished the trifecta violation of marrying a teenager, who was an orphan servant (a type of "sexual harassment"?), and had even more children.
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on May 13, 2013
THE PURCHASE opens with Daniel, a shunned Quaker, travelling with his orphaned children and his new wife from Pennsylvania to Virginia. In a decision that goes against his own beliefs, he buys a young slave, even trading away his beloved horse, Miss Patch, in the bargain. All of the novel’s action flows from this single bad decision. The writing is graceful and lyrical. Even the scenes that are horrifying are beautifully rendered. But The Purchase is not only about the horrors and the dehumanizing effects of slavery and of slave-owning, the novel also ventures into that territory with which every one of us is familiar: the amazing human capacity to rationalize and justify our most self-serving decisions and behaviours, even those that stand in stark opposition to our most deeply held principles. Sometimes, we even invoke God’s will in our justifications. This is a novel filled with flawed, i.e., deeply human, characters, and the author’s use of omniscient point of view is skillful in illuminating those characters. We understand their decisions even as we grieve for them. Highly recommended.
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on August 13, 2013
With this story, Linda Spalding creates the world of the Dickinson family. She skilfully crafts complete and complicated characters and yet manages to develop the reader's sympathy for multiple family members across several generations. An epic family saga.
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on June 22, 2013
I was disappointed by the limited character development. I felt most were rather two dimensional. I also felt that although I am sure many of the historical references were probably accurate the author was limited in her knowledge of rural/farm life, animal husbandry etc. I was reading the book for my book club and would not have wanted to read it for myself. It was a good portrayal of the terrible lives the slaves had in those days and the attitude towards them by the Europeans.
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on May 14, 2013
A new story about a theme which has been featured in so many stories. I found the father in this book incapable of learning from the people around him, he leaves his Quaker community and never seems to find a balance between the rigidity of his previous life and his new life in Virginia. He tries to avoid slavery yet his life becomes entwined with slavery and the violence that goes with it. Not my favorite book
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