The fates of two unforgettable women--one just beginning a journey of reckoning and self-discovery and the other completing her life's last vital act--intertwine in this sweeping, powerful novel set at the terminus of the Underground Railroad.
In the 1800s in Dunmore, a Canadian town settled by people fleeing enslavement in the American south, young Lensinda Martin works for a crusading Black journalist.
One night, a neighboring farmer summons Lensinda after a slave hunter is shot dead on his land by an old woman who recently arrived via the Underground Railroad. When the old woman refuses to flee before the authorities arrive, the farmer urges Lensinda to gather testimony from her before she can be condemned for the crime.
But the old woman doesn't want to confess. Instead she proposes a barter: a story for a story. And so begins an extraordinary exchange of tales that reveal an interwoven history of Black and Indigenous peoples in a wide swath of what is called North America.
As time runs out, Lensinda is challenged to uncover her past and face her fears in order to make good on the bargain of a story for a story. And it seems the old woman may carry a secret that could shape Lensinda's destiny.
Traveling along the path of the Underground Railroad from Virginia to Michigan, from the Indigenous nations around the Great Lakes, to the Black refugee communities of Canada, In the Upper Country weaves together unlikely stories of love, survival, and familial upheaval that map the interconnected history of the peoples of North America in an entirely new and resonant way.
Kai Thomas is a writer, carpenter, and land steward. He is Afro-Canadian, born and raised in Ottawa, descended from Trinidad and the British Isles. In the Upper Country is his first novel.