Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman reviewed by Lynda Waterhouse

I have been spending a lot of time looking at pictorial representations of mazes and labyrinths and so it was the title of this novel that first caught my eye when I was making one of my many trips to Foyles.
The first sentence drew me in,
Sophie Martineau looked out of the window of her mother’s 1954 Ford station wagon and watched her life slide behind her into the past.
From that moment I was transfixed by the story of thirteen year old Sophie Martineau’s summer in Louisiana in the 1960s. Her parents have just divorced and her mother is trying to earn a living and study to become an accountant in the evenings. So Sophie has to stay with her grandmother and her aunt on the dilapidated former sugar plantation.
America in the 1960s is beautifully and uncompromisingly evoked in the novel. Sophia’s beautiful mother has been brought up as a southern belle and who has told Sophie to, ‘never under any circumstances speak to any Negro man she didn’t already know.’
Sophie spends her time reading and sunbathing until an encounter with a mysterious creature in the overgrown maze offers her an opportunity to have the adventure that she craves as well as an escape from the painful feelings she has towards her mother and her father, who has suddenly remarried. Sophie finds herself transported through time to the planation as it was in 1860.
The experience is nothing like the bookish Sophie imagines it is going to be like. Her own ancestors mistake her for a slave and she is made to work in various roles on the plantation.  She slowly begins to realise that she may not be able to return home. There is real jeopardy and pain as Sophie grows and matures and helps others to escape to a freedom that may be denied her.
This is a beautifully written book that took Delia Sherman eighteen years and twenty seven drafts to perfect. It is a master - or should I say mistress - class in how to write a coming of age, a timeslip and a historical novel which highlights race and gender issues that sadly still resonate. Today.

ISBN978-1-4721-1752-6 published by Corsair


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