A Tangled Mercy
By: Joy Jordan-Lake
Publisher: Lake Union
Publication Date: 11/1/2017
My Rating: 5 Stars Told in alternating tales at once haunting and redemptive, A Tangled Mercy is a quintessentially American epic rooted in heartbreaking true events examining the harrowing depths of human brutality and betrayal, and our enduring hope for freedom and forgiveness. After the sudden death of her troubled mother, struggling Harvard grad student Kate Drayton walks out on her lecture—and her entire New England life. Haunted by unanswered questions and her own uncertain future, she flees to Charleston, South Carolina, the place where her parents met, convinced it holds the key to understanding her fractured family and saving her career in academia. Kate is determined to unearth groundbreaking information on a failed 1822 slave revolt—the subject of her mother’s own research.
Nearly two centuries earlier, Tom Russell, a gifted blacksmith and slave, grappled with a terrible choice: arm the uprising spearheaded by members of the fiercely independent African Methodist Episcopal Church or keep his own neck out of the noose and protect the woman he loves.
Kate’s attempts to discover what drove her mother’s dangerous obsession with Charleston’s tumultuous history are derailed by a horrific massacre in the very same landmark church. In the unimaginable aftermath, Kate discovers a family she never knew existed as the city unites with a powerful message of hope and forgiveness for the world.
A TANGLED MERCY by Joy Jordan-Lake interweaves the painful stories of two different time periods and two different sets of characters. A captivating tale. A place of contrasts. Pain and beauty. A city both vulnerable and resilient.
A hauntingly beautiful story of dual-timelines— a moving Southern tale: 1822 dark family secrets of slavery, and present-day Charleston, SC. From the Denmark Vesey slave revolt, and those who courageously fought for freedom.
The strong and courageous characters who stood out to take a stand against slavery to the more recent tragic shooting at Emanuel AME in Charleston —of rage, injustice, discrimination, and violence.
“A time for every season, you know —a time to mourn and a time to dance. Only here in the Low Country, we sometimes do both at the same time.”
Kate Drayton’s mother has passed and as a struggling Harvard grad student in New England, she decides to return to Charleston, SC — the place where her parents met. There are unanswered questions plus she needs to salvage her career in academia using her mom’s research.
Kate’s attempts to discover what drove her mother’s dangerous obsession with Charleston’s tumultuous history are derailed by a horrific massacre in the very same landmark church. In the unimaginable aftermath, Kate discovers a family she never knew existed as the city unites after horror and outrage.
A well-researched meticulous blending of fact and fiction, the author eloquently outlines why this story is so important to her. Her passion shines through each word on the page. It is critical to be tuned into how the “past bleeds through the present at every corner.”
As the author reiterates, it is her hope that this story of tragedy, brutality, beauty, and courage across two hundred years might be a least a small part of a conversation to have between our races.
Where "not talking" is also dangerous. “Make some noise” on behalf of those whose voices aren’t being heard. Promote respectful conversations.
I appreciate the author’s specific notes how she loved American history and the South. I can envision her packing up her eight-month daughter and her adventurous husband and driving to Charleston where she fell in love with the city. There was a story to be told. And back again later with three children and a husband to finish her work.
Engrossing! It is important to show the historical characters have changed the course of American history and why their message still matters today, particularly in a cultural moment in which people of common goodwill but different racial, ethnic and political backgrounds and perspectives are trying to be heard, and understood while attempting to move forward together.
Astounding, the author began this journey some twenty years ago; however, rings true today in our complex world of understanding people, their roots, their past, and their hearts.
As a reader, I find these components of fact and fiction make for a powerful and insightful read. The reason I myself find historical fiction so fascinating, you have a foundation of real people, vivid places, and experiences rich in history and character.
The skill of the author is to be able to put themselves in the minds and hearts of their characters —portray which could have happened or their most intimate thoughts. Feel what they are feeling.
Joy-Jordan Lake and her words will empower you. You cannot read this tale and not be moved in some way. A story of hope, forgiveness, and redemption. (have you read her bio)? Highly impressive.
If you have grown up or spent time in the Low Country, you may know of its historical architecture, beauty, and charm today.
However, as depicted in the novel, beneath the façade, there has been a turbulent history. Darkness and ugliness in contrast to the beauty. Even today in our world and cultural climate of today, we see the pain of racial injustice and a world of violence. We cannot read any news feed without devastation.
As the author mentions her intent is not only to tell a story worth reading (which she does masterfully); but equally and more importantly to honor the memory of those in the nineteenth and twenty-first-century Charleston who have set an example of courage, conviction, and a spirit of love far stronger than hate. They need a voice.
From outrage, pain, and horror to love, unity, forgiveness, and strength. A poignant and inspiring story of how people come together, even in their darkest hours. Crossing lines of race, income, social class, and religion. Seeking justice.
I loved the author’s reference to a foundation from a portion of the proceeds of the novel to go towards serving the families of victims, administered by Mother Emanuel.
Beyond the harrowing depths of human brutality and betrayal, their lives redemption, freedom, and forgiveness.
A highly recommended choice for book clubs and further discussions (Reading Group Questions Included).
For fans of well-researched historical and Southern fiction and readers who enjoy Jodi Picoult, Diane Chamberlain, Charles Martin, Karen White, Lisa Wingate and Susan Meissner. (all favorites of mine).
My first book by the author, and look forward to reading more (and her backlist of those I missed) from this talented and gifted writer! My Top Books of 2017 and my featured Top 20 Books for Nov.
“Satisfying…[A Tangled Mercy] will appeal to admirers of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings.” —Library Journal
“Jordan-Lake brings us the aroma, taste, and view of Charleston as vividly as if we stood in the middle of the scene. The depth of emotion and veracity of the story sets this novel apart, as it brings a lost and critical piece of southern history to light. [It] is about the important things in our life—how art undoes our chaos; how history is part of our present; and how defiant love and forgiveness conquer hatred and bigotry.” —Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of The Bookshop at Water’s End
“A must-read novel for today. Weaving the story of a slave uprising in 1822 Charleston with one set during the 2015 massacre at Charleston’s AME Church, A Tangled Mercy reminds us of yesterday’s atrocities and today’s ongoing racial travesties. Throughout the novel, author Joy Jordan-Lake offers readers compelling characters, evocative writing, and an engrossing and appalling look at time past and time present.” —M.K. Tod, author of Time and Regret
“Joy Jordan-Lake has done a masterful job with her new novel, A Tangled Mercy. She captures the beauty, charm, and challenges of one of America’s great cities, Charleston, South Carolina. In the historical-cultural context of Charleston, her writing is an inspiration. Through rich character development, she gives us an intimate view of its African American life. A Tangled Mercy is a must-read for those who want to experience the South. We meet a variety of people, both living and dead, that represent the iconic, ‘Emmanuel Nine.’” —African Methodist Episcopal Bishop John Richard Bryant, retired
“Joy Jordan-Lake’s A Tangled Mercy is an incredibly compelling and meticulously researched historical novel that will have you thinking about it long after you turn the last page. The dual narrative interweaves the story of Harvard grad student Kate Drayton’s journey to Charleston, South Carolina, to find answers about her deceased mother’s troubled past, with the little known but fascinating story of the Charleston slave uprising of 1822. It is a powerful and culturally relevant tale that should be on everyone’s must-read list this year.” —Jane Healey, author of The Saturday Evening Girls Club
About the Author
Joy Jordan-Lake has written more than a half dozen books, including the novel Blue Hole Back Home, which won the Christy Award in 2009 for Best First Novel. The book, which explores racial violence and reconciliation in the post–Civil Rights South, went on to be chosen as the Common Book at several colleges, as well as being a frequent book club pick.
Jordan-Lake holds a PhD in English, is a former chaplain at Harvard, and has taught literature and writing at several universities. Her scholarly work Whitewashing Uncle Tom’s Cabin draws on the narratives, journals, and letters of enslaved and slaveholding antebellum women, research that led her to the story behind A Tangled Mercy. Living outside of Nashville, she and her husband have three children. To learn more about the author and her work, visit www.joyjordanlake.com.