The New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Room brings a slice of his own family history to life through extensive research and rich storytelling.
Beginning with his great-great-grandfather Abraham Block, acclaimed novelist Simon Mawer sifts through evidence like an archaeologist, piecing together the stories of his ancestors. Illiterate and lacking opportunity in the bleak Suffolk village where his parents worked as agricultural laborers, Abraham leaves home at fifteen, in 1847. He signs away the next five years in an indenture aboard a ship, which will circuitously lead him to London and well beyond, to far-flung ports on the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In London he crosses paths with Naomi Lulham, a young seamstress likewise seeking a better life in the city, with all its prospects and temptations.
Another branch of the family tree comes together in 1847, in Manchester, as soldier George Mawer weds his Irish bride Ann Scanlon—Annie—before embarking with his regiment. When he is called to fight in the Crimean War, Annie must fend for herself and her children on a meager income, navigating an often hostile world as a woman alone.
With a keen eye and a nuanced consideration of the limits of what we can know about the past, Mawer paints a compelling, intimate portrait of life in the nineteenth century.