Beating the Odds in Colonial New York
2017 Book Excellence Awards Finalist for Fiction
2017 Winner 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading
Kidnapped in France and brought to America as an indentured servant, a young woman takes on the brutal merchant king of New York’s East River waterfront…
Illness suddenly deprives 17-year-old Sarah Da Silva and her older brother Jacob of a mother. Before Sarah has come to terms with that loss, her merchant father grows frail and increasingly desperate in the face of impending bankruptcy. On the rainy night their father scours the docks of Bordeaux, France, to make his final bid to save his family, his children are kidnapped and forced onto a ship bound for New York City where they’ll be separated and sold to the highest bidder as indentured labor.
Purchased by a grotesque merchant whose wealth, backed by a team of henchmen, allows him to dominate the chaotic East River docks, Sarah strikes back the only way she can. Vowing to never allow him to put his hands on her again, she presses a knife to his fat neck. She demands her freedom, a roof over her head and the means to start a business. Her leverage? Knowledge obtained on the voyage that would bring the big man to his knees forever. He yields to her demands but privately swears to become her worst nightmare.
I do love historical fiction and I was intrigued by the blurb and cover for this book. I have read a little bit about this period of history so was keen to get started on the book.
It is a very well written book that is well researched and accurate in its portrayal of what was happening in the area at that period of time – the characters and believable and it certainly makes for a really good story.
Four stars from me, I really enjoyed it!
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
October 29, 1748
IT WAS the highlight of Sarah’s week when her father signaled for her and her older brother Jacob to prepare themselves to accompany him while he conducted business on the quays of Bordeaux. Preparation meant simply to spruce up, straighten up and, above all, look up. Show that you are someone, he would say.
Since his wife died two years earlier, Gabriel Da Silva had placed his children on the pedestal his wife used to occupy. His taciturnity at home still made the days long, but Sarah had her brother to chatter with as they worked in the shop, its little office upstairs and the warehouse on the third floor. When Jacob teased her, which he would find any excuse to do, she laughed. Since their mother had died their father no longer barked out their names when he caught them playing word games while supposedly doing his accounts, or playing hide and seek in the store room when they were supposed to be finding space for a new consignment of goods. Mostly it was wine from their father’s best client, a producer in Pessac, a short distance southwest of the city.
Gabriel Da Silva was not a major merchant, so he was particularly proud of acting on behalf of the prestigious winery that had been in production for hundreds of years on the order of Pope Clément, a former archbishop of Bordeaux. Da Silva never had a problem with Catholics. Jews no longer had to pretend to be Catholic to get married. The King liked Jews when he profited from their commerce and borrowed their money to finance his fantasies of glory, first for himself, then for France.
Like many businessmen in coastal ports, Da Silva bought and sold whatever was at a good price, from fine silk fabrics made in Lyon to furniture made by the world-renowned craftsmen of Paris. Trade with the New World had made Bordeaux France’s major port, and many a merchant and shipowner had made their fortunes. Compared to them, Gabriel was a small fish, like the sardines from his native Portugal. But, he told himself, “I am one of them.”
Gabriel Da Silva was thin. His back was slightly hunched so he could not stand tall as he asked his children to do. Sarah, the youngest, was only 17 but she was already taller than her father, and almost as tall as her brother, two years her elder.
Sarah loved the days she spent on the docks of the great city. Though she knew only her little neighborhood, the streets around their shop on the Ruelle des Fosses, near the new Porte Dijeaux, she believed everything worth seeing in Bordeaux could be seen from the harbor, like the Église St. Pierre and the newly erected stock exchange, the Place de la Bourse, designed by the King’s very own architect as a symbol of the city’s prosperity. And she could gaze all day long at the ships anchored along the Garonne River. Even the river had come from far away, in the mountains of Spain, they said.
She and Jacob were not allowed to walk the quays alone. Her father said the press of men on the docks comprised men like himself, men with goods to offer, arrangements to conclude, or men of the sea, who seemed forever bent under the weight of the cargo they loaded or offloaded, or, if not bent, at least crooked under the effects of wine. And, said her father, there were men whose purpose on the docks was not declared, men who moved little else but their eyes. That only increased Sarah’s excitement as she and her brother followed their father, watching as he nodded to people, stopping occasionally to converse, or occasionally even boarding one of the merchantmen, sometimes for an hour on end. When that happened she and Jacob would dutifully sit near the end of the pier, away from the crowded quays.
Though it was late fall, as reflected by the blue of the sky, which she found far richer than that of midsummer days, the heat was unseasonal. Men, masts, buildings and the waters of the harbor shimmered before Sarah’s eyes. For a moment it caused her to lose sight of her father. He had grown smaller after the death of her mother.
As she hurried to catch up, Sarah instinctively stepped aside to evade the stench of a toothless man who’d tripped and stumbled toward her. She shielded her eyes with her left hand. Her father’s long, thin grey hair lurched back into view. She hurried to catch up. Jacob was already at her father’s side. On the docks, Jacob was never supposed to let his sister out of his sight. She realized she’d been too absorbed by the routine of chaos to notice she was lagging behind.
As she neared her father she thought she saw alarm in his eyes. He had been in intense conversation with a man she knew to be an agent. As she drew alongside, she caught a few words of the discussion. Finally the agent shook his head slowly, as if with regret. The hands he held up before his chest confirmed some kind of refusal. Her father sank down, coming to rest on a bollard. The agent turned away. Sarah was at Jacob’s side. They waited for their father to speak.
For long moments he remained silent, and swallowed a lot.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Award-winning author Wayne Clark was born in 1946 in Ottawa, Ont., but has called Montreal home since 1968. Woven through that time frame in no particular order have been interludes in Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Germany, Holland and Mexico.
By far the biggest slice in a pie chart of his career would be labelled journalism, including newspapers and magazines, as a reporter, editor and freelance writer. The other, smaller slices of the pie would also represent words in one form or another, in advertising as a copywriter and as a freelance translator. However, unquantifiable in a pie chart would be the slivers and shreds of time stolen over the years to write fiction.