Comfort: A Novel Of The Reverse Underground Railroad by H. A. MaxsonComfort: A Novel Of The Reverse Underground Railroad by H. A. Maxson

Comfort: A Novel Of The Reverse Underground Railroad

byH. A. Maxson, Claudia H. Young

Paperback | September 1, 2014

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The year 1816 in Delaware and surrounding states was known as "the year without a summer" due to debris from the eruption of Mt. Tambora that tainted most of the Northern hemisphere with chill and darkness. This time of chill and darkness provides the setting for this ambitious tale of people divided by the institution of slavery, ignorance, greed and social isolation and the triumph of a few people of character over impossible odds. Historians H.A. Maxson and Claudia H. Young bring alive this little known time and place in America. Their collaboration results in a memorable tale of loyalty and betrayal, compassion and cruelty, and of dauntless courage and creativity. Comfort is a talented young seamstress who has worked to buy her freedom from slavery from her benevolent owner, an Irish immigrant and former indentured servant. Her husband Cuff is an unwise, irresponsible and weak man who sells his wife to pay his gambling debt. When Comfort falls into the hands of the reprehensible dealer of human flesh Joe Johnson, she is sold south to Virginia, to a cruel master and poor manager. Comfort's stalwart friend Esther, is a slave whose skin is pale enough for her to pass as white. Esther possesses an extensive knowledge of "Roots", the native art of using plants for therapeutic and not-so-therapeutic purposes. Esther pairs with Pompey, a mute freed slave who is clever and resourceful, to escape her sadistic owner, travel south to find Comfort and help her find her way back to freedom and her baby girl. Comfort tells the story of how shared morality and character can lead to unlikely partnerships in intrepid heroism. This extraordinary work by veteran authors sets a new standard for interpretation of the reverse underground railroad.
 
 
H. A. Maxson  teaches English and writing at Wesley College in Delaware. He and his cousin Claudia H. Young have co-authored many books together. Their shared love of Delaware state history and teaching has resulted in many publications that are used in teaching history and social studies in the public schools in their area. Claudia H....
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Title:Comfort: A Novel Of The Reverse Underground RailroadFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 1.1 inPublished:September 1, 2014Publisher:Parkhurst Brothers Publishers IncLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1624910440

ISBN - 13:9781624910449

Reviews

From the Author

H. A. Maxson  I began my writing career as a poet and as an occasional literary critic. My first three books were poetry collections. I continue writing poetry and publishing collections every few years. Early on I wrote a few short stories, but I delayed writing longer fiction (and non-fiction prose) for decades. Why? When I began writing in earnest, there were no personal computers. Everything was written long hand and then revised drafts were typed, and retyped, and retyped. I never learned to touch type despite the lessons in high school, so typing was a slow hunt-and-peck. I was not about to commit myself to 75,000 words and probably years of typing a single ms. (Side note: I am now a demon on the keyboard, two fingers and a thumb a blur). However, I still write first drafts long hand. Poet-novelist? Novelist-poet? Both bring with them a specific satisfaction. I cannot imagine abandoning either one. Claudia H. Young: History is a good story told well. As a teacher I saw my students recall the historical details of an engaging story, but immediately forget the material they read in a standard history text book. When my cousin Max and I began to collaborate and write about Delaware and Maryland history, our historical fiction titles for children were well received in the Delaware public school system. Our books are still in use in more than one third of the public elementary schools across the state. Max and I often gave talks to students about our Delaware history books. We described how we started each book with a field trip and research. We visited historical sites across Delaware and Maryland  and met many wonderful people eager to help us find our information.  Museum curators, archivists, ship captains, secretaries and history enthusiasts aided our research efforts. History will always be a source for good stories. I have enjoyed this venture with Max to create Comfort’s story. It is a story about her journey out of slavery, back into slavery and back out again. Perhaps adult readers can become more aware of this lesser known segment of our history. If not, I hope they simply enjoy the story.

Editorial Reviews

HA Maxson and Claudia Young have crafted a crackerjack historical drama with savagery and grace. Comfort is one of those novels that unnerves the reader, the characters are vile, beautifully rendered, and it action unfolds cinematically.                   It’s 1816, the summer that wasn’t, and Comfort, a freed slave, is sold back into slavery by her alcoholic, gambling-addicted husband, Cuff, who is as bad as his name suggests. Comfort’s historical premise is based in fact, and meticulously researched, but history doesn’t weigh the narrative down, in fact Comfort’s prose is poetic, moving, even when describing the evil that people do to each other.                   Cuff is the low life kind of antagonist that readers love to hate. He gambles, is superstitious, takes advantage of everyone. Cuff is ostracized for selling Comfort back into slavery. That’s one of the books’ hooks. Comfort has already escaped slavery once by buying her freedom. Talented and capable, she’s just barely free when Cuff betrays her. Cuff is in the grips of addiction when he sells his wife to the reverse underground railroad (Google it...it’s real), and spends the rest of the novel trying to figure out why he’s the most hated man in town. He’s fogged up with gambling dreams, shakes, and bottle madness. You almost feel sorry for him, but reserve it. Cuff is necessary, and provides the moral backboard for the reader to hate equally Joe Johnston, a slave trader, and the master and mistress of the Osborne plantation, a dilapidated gothic hellhole that as ugly as the villains who run them. Master Osborne is nearly blind, and Mistress Osborne is jealously hateful of her slaves, and between the two of them, Comfort, sold to them by Johnston, finds no peace.Comfort:                   This isn’t a novel whose purpose is to embrace the complexities of the villains. The Osborne plantation is emblematic, perhaps realistic, but Maxson and Young make the place feverish, fetid, rotting; there is nothing remotely sympathetic about the place, or their masters. Mistress breaks Comfort’s fingers early in the novel, forcing Comfort to the fields where she will be broken by the hard labor; and its just what Mistress wants, for no one, especially not a slave, can possess domestic talents that surpass that of the lady of the house. Petty? Cruel? You bet, but it’s not grossly over the top either. The Osborne place is full of violence, but it’s the underlying hate under the characters hearts that make the place reprehensible, to the reader, and to everyone else in the novel. White people, respectable Christian land-owners, hate the Osbornes. The kind of slave owners that slave owners hate and view as scum of the earth.                   The novel’s protagonists are Comfort, and Esther, an octoroon slave who flees her home and heads South, pretending to be white, to save Comfort. While Comfort is the title character, Esther’s story is possibly the most dramatic, and the most harrowing. Esther must pass for white, and take Comfort’s baby south. She’s paranoid, out of her element, and terrified. Yet, It is this storyline that is the heart of the novel, and where Maxson and Young’s storytelling shines.                   Grace, in the face of evil, grace in the face of danger is how Comfort, and Esther survive. “Comfort cut her glance toward from time to time, but mostly she stared ahead at the smooth unbroken motion of the hoe tearing weeds away from full grown plants, smoothing out wrinkles in the earth, piling rocks and pebbles, making hours disappear as the sun spun another cycle across the warm blue sky.” Comfort disappears into the work of the field. The suffering is beautifully rendered, but doesn’t feel exploitative, or hypersensitive. In the end, Comfort’s quick study and Esther’s knowledge of roots and herbs save them. Disguise, poison, betrayal, all elements of high suspense, and though it all you root for Esther, you root for Pompey the mute slave, you root for Comfort, you root for her baby, pulled along by Maxson and Young’s well paced, graceful prose. — Scott Whitaker