The Next Chapter

The real family history that inspired Linda Spalding's new novel

CBC Radio

November 07, 2017

Linda Spalding's previous novel, The Purchase, won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. (Derek Shapton/Penguin Random House Canada)

Linda Spalding's novel The Purchase won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 2012. Her new novel, A Reckoning, is a sequel to The Purchase. Both books are inspired by Spalding's family, who were slave owners in Virginia before the American Civil War and eventually made their way west to Missouri. Spalding was born and raised in Kansas and she now lives in Toronto.

A brother's ruin

"This book, like the last one, is based on some facts that I knew about my ancestors. One of the things that happens in this particular book is a family breakdown that actually did historically happen. And I knew one thing about it: there were two brothers and one of them had cosigned a loan for the other. In so doing, he brought about his own ruin. The family in Virginia had quite a lot of land — 3,000 acres at one point — and they had quite a few slaves, I'm sorry to say."

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Divided then, divided now

"The novel comments on our present times and actually reaches right back to the beginning of the United States. From the very first minute, there was a divide between people who believed in centralized government and people who wanted the government out of their lives and wanted to move into the woods and do their own thing. That divide is permanently and perpetually engraved in the American consciousness, and is in the polarization that's happening right now."

'Freedom' in Canada

"The other half of the book has to do with getting some of those escaped or freed people who were kept in bondage up to Canada. They went by the thousands, and what happened to them in Canada was another problem. Yes, they were promised freedom and yes, in many cases they were given land, but in a lot of ways they were not admitted into the society that they'd entered." 

Linda Spalding's comments have been edited and condensed.