Kaitlyn Greenidge's Libertie (2021) might be called a coming of age novel, given the fact that the book explores the issues and challenges of establishing and sustaining identity against all odds. Set partially during the Reconstruction Era in a self-emancipated Black community In Brooklyn, New York, and also in the country of Haiti, Libertie covers several decades in the life of the titular character, as she struggles to discern the essence of who she is and wants to become, her path and her passions.
At the same time, Libertie struggles to resist the pressures of her accomplished mother, a medical doctor and the strictures and burdens of racism and colorism, which extend into her time at college and beyond. While Libertie's mother is fair enough to pass as white and attend medical school, Libertie is dark, like her dead father. She is considered beautiful by an attractive, somewhat mysterious man, who she then marries. The relationship, along with his expectations and demands change in surprising ways, however, after they travel by boat to live with his complicated family in Haiti. In this novel, one person's idyllic homeland proves to be another's troubling and alien, if beautiful, territory.
Libertie is Kaitlyn Greenidge's second novel and was among the most anticipated books of 2021. This isn't surprising, as Greenidge's debut, We Love You, Charlie Freeman, received awards and a multitude of positive reviews. In Libertie, Greenidge writes beautifully about the collective power of Black women, particularly those in the Brooklyn community who work to found a hospital for women like themselves. “I have never in my life felt anything as powerful as whatever force was in that room while those women talked,” Libertie thinks. “Perhaps women’s voices in harmony were like some sort of flintstone sparking.”
Kaitlyn Greenidge's Libertie will spark interesting conversations for those interested in gaining new perspectives on a complicated time in history, both in the United States and abroad, in the colonized Caribbean. And if you're anything like me, the beautifully developed characters will resonate and linger in your mind for a long time.