Provenance-001

In 2015, Baltimore had 344 homicides. Given that, sometimes it can be hard to find the time to sit down and think about the privilege that some Whites have in today’s society.

Donna Drew Sawyer’s debut novel “Provenance: A Novel” is historical fiction set in Richmond, VA, New York and parts of Europe in the years following the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

The novel is about a Black man named Henry Whitaker who flees his hometown after being accused of a crime and sets up business in Richmond as a White man. In the aftermath of his decision, his family is left to fend for themselves. His son Lance is forced to make a decision on whether or not he will follow in his father’s footsteps in pretending to be a White man.

While I’m not generally a fan of historical fiction, this book made me want to find out more about Lance and his family.

Historical books, at times, can overwhelm readers with detail. This book is different.

Sawyer weaves historical artists, jazz musicians and other notable figures of the time into the novel. For example, Lance meets Belle da Costa Greene, the librarian to famed financier J.P. Morgan, and begins a relationship with her.

The book deals with themes of acceptance and equality. Henry and his son, Lance, struggle with notions of race and class during a period when segregation was prevalent and lynchings were a common occurrence. The moral conflicts the family experiences due to one person’s decision echo throughout the book.

The sequel to ‘Provenance’ is already set to come out in 2017. Sawyer, who was born and raised in New York, now lives near Washington D.C. with her husband and two grown daughters and will be at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland on May 21.