The fates of two unforgettable women—one just beginning a journey of reckoning and self-discovery and the other completing her life's last vital act—intertwine in this sweeping, powerful novel set at the terminus of the Underground Railroad.
In the 1800s in Dunmore, a Canadian town settled by people fleeing enslavement in the American south, young Lensinda Martin works for a crusading Black journalist.
One night, a neighboring farmer summons Lensinda after a slave hunter is shot dead on his land by an old woman who recently arrived via the Underground Railroad. When the old woman refuses to flee before the authorities arrive, the farmer urges Lensinda to gather testimony from her before she can be condemned for the crime.
But the old woman doesn't want to confess. Instead she proposes a barter: a story for a story. And so begins an extraordinary exchange of tales that reveal an interwoven history of Black and Indigenous peoples in a wide swath of what is called North America.
As time runs out, Lensinda is challenged to uncover her past and face her fears in order to make good on the bargain of a story for a story. And it seems the old woman may carry a secret that could shape Lensinda's destiny.
Traveling along the path of the Underground Railroad from Virginia to Michigan, from the Indigenous nations around the Great Lakes, to the Black refugee communities of Canada, In the Upper Country weaves together unlikely stories of love, survival, and familial upheaval that map the interconnected history of the peoples of North America in an entirely new and resonant way.
About the Author
KAI THOMAS is a writer, carpenter, and land steward. He is Afro-Canadian, born and raised in Ottawa, descended from Trinidad and the British Isles. In the Upper Country is his first novel.
Praise for In the Upper Country
"Kai Thomas' In the Upper Country is a sweeping epic that imagines all the ways our ancestors tried to get free. This is an exciting new voice in fiction, as interested in the complexities of land and belonging as in the vagaries of human love and connection." —Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of Libertie
"Stories within stories; until I read them, I hadn't realised these are ones I'd long been wanting, needing even. In this remarkable debut, Kai Thomas fills out the picture of a place, a time, peoples and their relationships, all previously neglected in the day-to-day unfolding of the nations. His immensely compelling details, and a host of voices so well-wrought you can see and hear the speakers long after you've finished reading, will leave you eager to see what he'll do next." —Shani Mootoo, author of Polar Vortex
"In the Upper Country is not only fiction alive with history; it is historic… In the Upper Country reminds me—yes—of Lawrence Hill’s Book of Negroes and Ernest J. Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying. And practically every page turns up a sentence or a phrase that could have been penned by Toni Morrison or James Baldwin… a gift of lyric genius to enthrall all—and to educate Afro-Métis people about the love and courage that enabled their creation." —George Elliott Clarke, Author of Where Beauty Survived: An Africadian Memoir
“Thomas’s mesmerizing debut explores freedom, family, and the interconnections between white, Black, and Indigenous communities in 1859 Canada….Thomas amplifies the women’s stories with excerpts from a collection of enslaved people’s narratives, while stories of Black Canadians during the War of 1812; and the American enslaved people who settled Dunmore add to the vivid tapestry. At once intimate and majestic, Thomas’s ambitious work heralds a bright new voice.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review