by Sharon ChanceAugust, 1999
Review By Sharon Galligar ChanceNoted African-American author Connie Briscoe remembers as a child seeing two portraits of very light-complexioned women on her grandmother's bureau and asking who the two white women were. She was told they were her great-great grandmother and great-great aunt. And they weren't white ; both had been slaves up until the end of the Civil War. Being naturally curious, Briscoe set out to uncover the family history. From this research came A Long Way from Home. This emotional narrative is a multi-generational story of slavery, freedom, and the unbreakable bonds of family, as told through three unforgettable women. A Long Way from Home recounts the lives of Susie, her daughter Clara, and her granddaughter Susan. Born and raised as privileged house slaves onMontpelier, the Virginia plantation of President James Madison and his wifeDolley Madison, these women are united by love, a fierce devotion to each other,and, ultimately, a desire for freedom. For Susie, life holds no promise beyondthe plantation. As a personal maid to Miss Dolley, she is content. DaughterClara, however, longs to control her own destiny despite her mother's words ofcaution: . . . You don't know a thing about freedom, 'cause I don't knowanything about it. It takes money and know-how to live free. You don't just upand do it. Life changes for both women with the death of James Madison and the departure of his wife for her town house. As a result of neglectful management, the plantation eventually falls to a series of owners, each posing a new threat to Susie and Clara and the other longtime Madison slaves.