David Anthony Durham's Walk Through Darkness (2002) is an important novel of family and freedom, black and white, hatred and love. Set in the 1850's, it tells the story of an escaping slave and the society he moves through. Durham's ear for conversation is sharp, and his characters are engaging if sometimes overly stereotyped. He makes factual mistakes; for instance, Paulette points out that the boysenberry is a 20th Century hybrid of blackberry, raspberry, and loganberry that grows on vines, not a tree that someone could rest under as Durham has anachronistically described it. More disturbingly, sporadic scenes of ninja-style violence dispel the atmosphere of the story even as they advance an unfortunately predictable plot.
But Durham rises to moments of striking poetry, as in Part Three, Chapter Nine:
He slung the sack that contained his few belongings over his shoulder, cast his eyes about the dark lair that he had come to know each corner of by heart, and then he cracked the door open and slipped out. The night expanded around him with a great rush, as if the sky and the stars and trees and all the animals and insects in them had been huddled just outside the door to the carriage house and had jumped back when he emerged. The whole world hung about him in this façade of distance and indifference, a great charade to trick him into believing that he went unwatched, to convince him that this night was not about him and him alone. He crouched just outside the door for a moment, listening to the chaos of chirps and whines and buzzing, trying to search through it all for some other noise, a voice, a snapped twig, the crackle of weight pressing down upon dry leaves. But there was nothing, nothing save a million insects shouting out their existence.
Paragraphs such as that, along with deftly-handled and still-relevant social commentary, make this book one to read and think about.