Books

Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Book of the Little Axe

by Lauren Francis-Sharma

Ambitious and masterfully wrought, Lauren Francis-Sharma’s Book of the Little Axe is an incredible journey, spanning decades and oceans from Trinidad to the American West during the tumultuous days of warring colonial powers and westward expansion.

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date May 12, 2020
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2936-9
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $26.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date May 12, 2020
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4703-5
  • US List Price $26.00

In 1796 Trinidad, young Rosa Rendón quietly but purposefully rebels against the life others expect her to lead. Bright, competitive, and opinionated, Rosa sees no reason she should learn to cook and keep house, for it is obvious her talents lie in running the farm she, alone, views as her birthright. But when her homeland changes from Spanish to British rule, it becomes increasingly unclear whether its free black property owners—Rosa’s family among them—will be allowed to keep their assets, their land, and ultimately, their freedom.

By 1830, Rosa is living among the Crow Nation in Bighorn, Montana with her children and her husband, Edward Rose, a Crow chief. Her son Victor is of the age where he must seek his vision and become a man. But his path forward is blocked by secrets Rosa has kept from him. So Rosa must take him to where his story began and, in turn, retrace her own roots, acknowledging along the way, the painful events that forced her from the middle of an ocean to the rugged terrain of a far-away land.

Tags Historical

Praise for Book of the Little Axe:

Book of the Little Axe is epic in ambition and scope, a sweeping tale that illuminates pivotal historical periods in Trinidad and North America, and the links between them. This is also the story of a young man’s coming of age and a mother’s secrets and a family’s love in the face of violence. Lauren Francis-Sharma brings her characters and their tangled histories to life with tremendous precision and sensitivity. This is the work of a major voice, a brilliant talent.”—Laura van den Berg, award winning author of The Third Hotel

“They say the past is a foreign country but forget to mention that it’s also wild. Book of the Little Axe reminds us. Ranging from Trinidad to the mountainous West, Lauren Francis-Sharma has woven an emotional, immediate, ambitious story of love and belonging. Rather than retell a story of first contact between native people and newcomers to the new world, Francis-Sharma has produced a deeply moving novel about the ways in which all of us have always been connected.”—David Treuer, author of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee

Book of the Little Axe is an epic novel that recreates the hybrid history of Native and African peoples during the era of American exploration and expansion. Lauren Francis-Sharma’s care for her characters and skill with her subject shine through every page.”—Laila Lalami, author of The Other Americans

“A shimmering epic that forges new paths into the old territory of the American West. Brilliant and unforgettable. Book of the Little Axe is an astonishing journey.”—Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red

“Lauren Francis-Sharma has written one of those thrilling novels – so valuable and welcome – that adds (or better say restores) another strand to our national narrative. We’re all the richer for Book of the Little Axe.”—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Fortunes

“From her gripping first sentence, Lauren Francis-Sharma draws her reader into her intoxicating tale of intrigue, love, conflict, and power struggle at a pivotal time in the histories of Trinidad and the western United States. Her research is meticulous, her prose seductive, her characters mesmerizing. Book of the Little Axe shines a bright light on the little-known connections between the Caribbean and the United States. Readers will find it almost impossible to put this book down.”—Elizabeth Nunez, author of Prospero’s Daughter and Even in Paradise

“Francis-Sharma’s prose shines in this epic and propulsive historical novel that is set in Trinidad and the American West, and follows the life of Rosa Rendón, who is talented, bright, and fierce.”Millions, “Most Anticipated: the Great First-Half 2020 Book Preview”

“A persuasively researched account so richly evocative of a relatively obscure corner of history as to make it seem almost phantasmagorical.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

Praise for ’Til the Well Runs Dry:

The New York Times Sunday Book Review Shortlist
Black Caucus of the American Library Association 2015 Honor Book in Fiction

“As universally touching as it is original.”—New York Times

“Lauren Francis-Sharma turns the family drama on its ear with this lush, elegant epic.”—Essence Magazine

“A saga ripe with heartbreak and joy . . . Francis-Sharma delivers a rich and satisfying debut on the ties of family, love, and culture.”―Kirkus Reviews

Reading Group Guide

1. The novel opens with an African and Caribbean proverb, “A little axe can cut down a big tree,” and a quote from Henry VI, “And many strokes, though with a little axe, / Hew down and fell the hardest-timber’d oak.” Who in this story is the little axe? Give examples from the novel to support your answers. What is the meaning of the title to you?

2. The novel deftly sheds light on the brutalities of life in the American West of the 1700s and the early 1800s. What was the impact of colonialism on the enslaved and oppressed peoples of Trinidad?

3. At the heart of Book of the Little Axe is the sweeping family saga of the Rendóns. Describe the family dynamic. Compare and contrast the siblings’ relationships with their parents. With each other. Why are some bonds stronger than others? Examine the way the author reveals Demas Rendón’s character throughout the novel. How did your opinion of him change? What is the significance of DeGannes to the Rendón family, and why does Rosa lie for him?

4. For headstrong and fiercely independent Rosa Rendón, America is meant to represent freedom and purpose but initially feels like punishment. How does she change during her time in America? List the ways Rosa challenges the preconceptions about a Black woman in the early eighteenth century.

5. What effect does Creadon Rampley’s arrival have on the Rendón family? What is similar and what is different about his connections with Rosa, Eve, and Demas? Consider how he changes their lives, and the ways in which they change his. Although he demonstrates a capacity for violence several times, Rampley is described as a good man. Do you agree? And why?

6. When we first meet Victor, he is desperate for his first vision and uncertain of his place in the Apsáalooke tribe. Then the unexpected presence of Under Foot disrupts his life and ends his friendship with Like-Wind. Did reading the novel through Victor’s “young eyes” change the way you experienced the plot? What are some of the benefits and disadvantages of a young narrator? By the close of the novel, Victor is maturing into “a young man of many homes” (p. 381). Discuss his transformation.

7. Francis-Sharma’s skillful attention to detail, her weaving from past to present, and her use of folklore and prophetic dreams help to illuminate pivotal moments in the lives of the characters. How do these techniques impact the storytelling? Do they effectively enhance the story? Do they help you to connect with the characters? Which technique was your favorite? Explain your answers.

8. What are the unforeseen consequences of Rosa’s decision to help the stranded couple on the side of the road? Explore how the ripple effect of this one moment touches and changes every facet of Rosa’s life. What prevents Rampley from speaking up and fighting to keep Rosa in his life?

9. How do you think Francis-Sharma deals with gender and gender norms? Take that discussion further and examine how the novel addresses the questions of race, class, and colorism.

10. Why does Rosa take Victor to Kullyspell? What impact does the diary have on Victor? Were you at all surprised to learn of Rosa’s secrets? Discuss the relationship that develops between Rampley and Victor.

11. What is the significance of the horse Martinique?

12. Identity and belonging are two of the major themes in Book of the Little Axe. In what ways does the desire for both influence the actions of the characters?

13. Compare Rosa’s relationship with Edward, her “anchor,” to her relationship with Creadon, whom she thinks of as “only a bridge.” Why do you think she describes each man the way she does? Do you think she loves them? Why or why not? Share how your decision would have differed from Rosa’s.

14. The novel ends with Rampley saying to Victor: “We is we.” What do these words mean, and why are they important?

Suggestions for further reading:

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka; Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes; The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer; Prospero’s Daughter and Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez ; Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling; The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies; The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar; Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min

Reading group guide by Keturah Jenkins