by Norman Lock
Bellevue Literary Press, 2017
A Fugitive in Walden Woods is historical fiction, a revisionist history featuring some of the greatest American minds of 1845. The book is part of The American Novels series.
At the cost of his shackled hand, the enslaved Samuel Long escapes via the Underground Railroad to relative freedom in Massachusetts. His benefactor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, gives him a job of sorts—monitoring the well-being of Emerson’s friend, Henry David Thoreau, who is in the midst of his famous sojourn in Walden Woods. In the occasional company of these men, Samuel becomes acquainted with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, William Lloyd Garrison, and other Transcendentalists. A Fugitive in Walden Woods is Samuel Long’s memoir of his year in Walden Woods, written through the lens of his later experiences.
So thoroughly does Lock set the mood that it is impossible to tell which words of Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne are ones actually spoken or ones created by Lock. Though these men pondered the great questions of their age (and our own), the insertion of Samuel into the story, forces a more practical rendering of their great ideals.
"Emerson had asked me what it meant to be human. I should have told him that a person cannot be human if his life is perpetually in the grip of terror and uncertainty. Just as cities are built by people unafraid of marauding barbarians and the caprices of a hostile universe, so will we become human when we no longer live in fear for our lives."
A Fugitive in Walden Woods does not shrink from the difficult questions of our time, including racism. It succeeds in its goal of nudging us to become deeper thinkers.
"It is easy to misjudge others—a commonplace remark, but nonetheless true. We close our minds to the completeness of others, striking from the portraits we draw of them in our imaginations all contradiction."
My copy of A Fugitive in Walden Woods was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers.