Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Black Cloud Rising

A Novel

by David Wright Faladé

Already excerpted in the New Yorker, Black Cloud Rising is a compelling and important historical novel that takes us back to an extraordinary moment when enslaved men and women were shedding their bonds and embracing freedom

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date February 21, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6039-3
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date February 22, 2022
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5919-9
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date February 22, 2022
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5920-5
  • US List Price $27.00

By fall of 1863, Union forces had taken control of Tidewater Virginia, and established a toehold in eastern North Carolina, including along the Outer Banks. Thousands of freed slaves and runaways flooded the Union lines, but Confederate irregulars still roamed the region. In December, the newly formed African Brigade, a unit of these former slaves led by General Edward Augustus Wild—a one-armed, impassioned Abolitionist—set out from Portsmouth to hunt down the rebel guerillas and extinguish the threat.

From this little-known historical episode comes Black Cloud Rising, a dramatic, moving account of these soldiers—men who only weeks earlier had been enslaved, but were now Union infantrymen setting out to fight their former owners. At the heart of the narrative is Sergeant Richard Etheridge, the son of a slave and her master, raised with some privileges but constantly reminded of his place. Deeply conflicted about his past, Richard is eager to show himself to be a credit to his race. As the African Brigade conducts raids through the areas occupied by the Confederate Partisan Rangers, he and his comrades recognize that they are fighting for more than territory. Wild’s mission is to prove that his troops can be trusted as soldiers in combat. And because many of the men have fled from the very plantations in their path, each raid is also an opportunity to free loved ones left behind. For Richard, this means the possibility of reuniting with Fanny, the woman he hopes to marry one day.

With powerful depictions of the bonds formed between fighting men and heartrending scenes of sacrifice and courage, Black Cloud Rising offers a compelling and nuanced portrait of enslaved men and women crossing the threshold to freedom.

Tags Historical

Praise for Black Cloud Rising:

“Faladé’s book is so accessible and rousing, though, that you hope it becomes available as a mass-market paperback, in packaging that more clearly announces: This book is a straight-up page-turner. There are no braided points of view here, no too-pretty words, no splintered syntax. No leaden diagnoses of the human predicament belch on the smoky skyline. The nature of the American experiment is implicitly questioned but not burned to the ground… This is a classic war story told simply and well, its meanings not forced but allowed to bubble up.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times  

“In this profoundly reflective novel, Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award winner Faladé uses real-life Civil War sergeant Richard Etheridge to explore the immediate consequences of emancipation… A triumphant examination of U.S. history and race relations at a crucial juncture, as seen through the eyes of the well-wrought, ever-questioning Etheridge; highly recommended.”—Library Journal, starred review

“The story of the African Brigade, a unit of Black freedmen who fought for the Union during the Civil War, gets its due in this superior adult debut from Faladé . . .[Richard] Etheridge is made a fascinating figure, well suited to serve as the focal point for Faladé’s exploration of the complexities of Etheridge and his comrades’ rapid shift from powerlessness to armed military duty. Engrossing and complex, this will have readers riveted.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Tensely wrought… A masterful depiction of the precarious nature of Black life during the war and of slavery’s unrelenting assault on human dignity.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Wright Faladé’s richly detailed, grippingly told story breathes life into a revolutionary moment when the US moved a vital step forward toward achieving the ideals we’ve always proclaimed.”—Charles Frazier, National Book Award-winning author of Cold Mountain

“David Wright Faladé’s thrilling, revelatory Black Cloud Rising turns Civil War history upside down and makes America give up one of its darkest secrets—that our racial tension is literally a family feud.”—James Hannaham, Pen/Faulkner Award-winning author of Delicious Foods and The Pilot Imposter

Black Cloud Rising is riveting and authentic—an intimate and brilliantly written portrayal of former slaves who risked everything to fight in the African Brigades during the Civil War. It’s a compelling and deeply moving story of race, war and the eternal pursuit of freedom.”—David Zucchino, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Wilmington’s Lie

“The brilliant portrayal of crucially defining matters of racial history in America will rightly draw great acclaim to David Wright Faladé’s Black Cloud Rising. But this novel’s power is transcendent. Told in an exquisitely distinctive and nuanced voice, it reaches deep into the universal human condition and engages the core yearning of us all: our yearning for a self, for an identity, for a place in the universe.”—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“Black Cloud Rising is the story of a minor engagement in the Civil War, a footnote in most history books, but it is the story of a major part of American history: the hard fought, still continuing battle of African Americans to rise from slavery to equality. From a single time and place, like a hologram it generates a three-dimensional picture of the difficulties, complexities, and nuances faced by Black people then and now. If you like history, if you want to better understand the struggle for equality, no matter your personal history or race, and if you want a good story, read this book. It’s a triple threat.”—Karl Marlantes, New York Times-bestselling author of Matterhorn

Praise for Fire on the Beach:

“This true-life story is akin to Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, except that the storm here is on shore as well. The story roils with the terrifying racism of slavery’s aftermath, as Wright (English, Univ. of Illinois) and Zoby (Caspar Coll.) indicate in this story of the life and times of Richard Etheridge (1842-1900)… More than one man’s story, this mix of personal and institutional biography brings to life the daily challenges and triumphs of blacks pushed aside, but no less valuable, in a New South.”—Library Journal

“African-American, Civil War and naval history enthusiasts will find this of interest.”—Publishers Weekly

Fire on the Beach is a grand American adventure story, perfectly paced and surely told, filled with lore, meticulous detail, and a dozen perfect storms.”—Tom Franklin, author of Poachers

“Wright and Zoby recount an extraordinary story of perseverance, courage, and professionalism in the face of extreme racial prejudice… The authors have revived a remarkable long-forgotten chapter in the annals of African American history.”—Booklist

“Combining a thrilling narrative pace with meticulous research, David Wright and David Zoby have restored for us all a vibrant chapter of our common history that should never be forgotten.”—Philip Graham, author of How to Read an Unwritten Language

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for Black Cloud Rising by David Wright Faladé
Guide by David Kambhu

1. Black Cloud Rising begins with a childhood flashback that introduces us to the tangled web of power and family dynamics that will play out between Richard, Patrick, and John B. over the rest of the novel. Discuss these. What details does Faladé use to highlight these complicated relationships?

2. White supremacy and military rank aren’t the only hierarchies that Richard and his fellow troopers are forced to navigate in Black Cloud Rising. What other systems are imposed on them? What lines do they draw to unite or divide themselves? How and why do they cross those lines?

3. When describing white attitudes about the recruitment of Black soldiers, Richard dismisses Northern paternalism and Southern horror as “but different sides of the same coin” and “bunkum for self-interested purpose.” At the same time, he praises General Wild for his similarly dehumanizing appraisal of men like him as “pure terror. Just that” (p. 17). Why do you think this is?

4. In describing his dream-memory about telling John B. of his enlistment in the Union Army, Richard has trouble keeping track of what parts of the scene actually happened, asking: “Was this truly said, any more than the part about the ornamented gum tree?” (p. 27). Which parts of his dream do you trust? Which parts feel like inventions or intrusions of camp life into his sleep?

5. The soldiers in Richard’s regiment face more than just their counterparts on the battlefield—their first casualty, Robert Hunter, is bitten by a rattlesnake. What other enemies and dangers are they up against? In what ways, effective or not, do they fight those battles?

6. Whether through Richard’s interaction with the pro-Union, slave-owning cousin of John B. or his protracted conflict with Revere, Faladé repeatedly shows how the North-South division of the Civil War actually consists of a complex patchwork of factions, loyalties, and personal connections. Why do you think he emphasizes these internal fault lines? Did this subvert your expectations for how the plot of the novel would unfold?

7. Shortly after he is reunited with Fanny, Richard thinks, “instead of fighting for the idea of her, here she now was, close enough to touch” (p. 125). How is Richard’s mental image of Fanny and his duty as a soldier challenged by her arrival as a flesh-and-blood person? How does Fanny deal with being idealized by him?

8. Why do you think Faladé largely emphasizes the daily lives of these soldiers rather than the battles they fight? Were you surprised at the amount and types of interaction they have with the local population?

9. Early in the novel Richard says that he is fighting “for my right to prerogate claims to home” (p. 12) but immediately before his first battle he finds himself acutely motivated by the desire to prove himself to Revere, having been called “unfit to lead in front of my men” (p. 190). Why do you think saving face in front of Revere matters so much to Richard? How does this connect to the larger themes of the novel?

10. After the successful ambush outside the Church the men and officers celebrate by singing together, with “even Backuss’s lips moving heartily” (p. 202). Do you think this marks a real bond forming between the two groups or is this an expression of a temporary burst of feeling?

11. When Richard catches Patrick in the pocosin he has no shortage of reasons to arrest him. It’s his military duty to bring guerrilla fighters in. He isn’t sure that Patrick hadn’t been involved in the lynching of the family earlier that day. He doesn’t know for certain if Patrick had shot at him moments before. The encounter even prompted Richard to recognize that he’d “been blind my own damn self” (p. 229) regarding his discomfiting similarities to John B. So why does he let Patrick go?

12. While early in the book Richard relishes being seen by Wild more as an instrument of war than as an individual, later on he is dismayed that despite having met several times the general still has trouble recognizing him, let alone seeing him as a person distinct from their larger cause. Draper is the only white character who truly seems capable of seeing Richard—“Not Sergeant Etheridge, his boy Friday, but me, a man, and fully so—as big and broad and rich of substance as he understood himself to be” (p. 249). What do you think allows Draper to have this clarity? Discuss what you think it means that Richard describes this moment as raising “a sense of alarm in me, even as it felt freeing” (p. 249).

13. While shots don’t end up being fired between them, one of the largest-scale military conflicts in Black Cloud Rising is the standoff with the Union soldiers of the Ninety-Eighth. Why do you think Faladé chooses this as the closing scene of the main arc of the novel while the rest of the war is summarized in the Afterword?

14. When the war ends, Richard returns to the largely unchanged Sand Banks and builds a life for himself—though one that he is conflicted about and feels the need to defend, saying “I made money, good money, and I gained standing in the Banks. I was an American, by God—all of us former colored troopers were . . . Why should I not have taken the utmost advantage?” (p. 282). What do you think of the decisions and compromises he makes? Why do you think he makes them?

15. How do you interpret Revere’s parting words to Richard on the last page of the novel? Richard describes them as bone-deep truth, but remarks that he himself “seemed capable only of seeking truth elsewhere” (p. 290). Why do you think this is? Does this last scene and chapter change your interpretation of the novel’s earlier events?