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- Thurwood Talton – former Georgia State University history professor and civil rights supporter who wrote a manuscript titled “Flight From Forsyth” before he died
- Kathleen Talton – Thurwood’s wife, who has made it her life’s mission to get “Flight From Forsyth” published
- Charles Sherman – a struggling writer looking for his big break; married into the Cutchins family
- Trouble – a mysterious stranger who introduces Charles to Kathleen
- Isaac “Ike” Cutchins or Pappy – patriarch of the Cutchins clan; his farm is now worth $20 million, but it may have been obtained illegally
- John Riggins – the only African American to return to Forsyth County in the 1930s following the 1912 mob-driven expulsion of all blacks from the area
Stay-at-home dad Charles Sherman’s writing career is going nowhere fast until the day he meets Trouble, an odd man who convinces Charles to complete a dead history professor’s unpublished manuscript. Thurwood Talton wrote about the forced evacuation of 1000 African Americans from Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912 after a violent period of mob lynchings, nightriding and arson. However, as Charles tries to resurrect Talton’s boring tome, he uncovers a sinister crime that’s gone unpunished for many decades and hits closer to home than Charles could have ever imagined.
The suspicious sequence of events leaves Charles certain that divine intervention is at play and that he was specially selected to bring the sinners to justice. This mission pits him against Forsyth County’s most prominent family which is negotiating a pending land sale. Charles also incurs the wrath of others who will do anything to keep the truth from being made public. But if a Higher Power is ultimately behind this, he’s definitely not cutting Charles any slack since everything quickly goes terribly wrong for the well-intentioned writer.
The story is powerful and gripping, and even more so when the reader learns it was inspired by real-life events. Author Jonathan Grant is essentially Charles Sherman, having worked on his late father Donald L. Grant’s magnum opus, “The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia.” Then there’s Forsyth County’s history which is a matter of public record. The region made national news in 1987 when Hosea Williams led two civil rights marches: the first was broken up by rock- and bottle-throwing neo-Nazis and Klansmen, while the second became the largest protest in history with 25,000 marchers.
Grant deserves much credit for bringing the past to life without regurgitating facts and boring the audience in the process. Although a bit lengthy, he keeps the suspense building throughout the entire book. There’s no way to guess how it will end since you never know what each turn of the page will bring. The main character’s plight is just a never-ending series of misfortunate events, all seemingly designed to stop him from righting the wrongs done to others so long ago. Somehow though he finds the wherewithal to keep going, and you can’t help but cheer him on and hope for a “happy ending” after all he’s been through.
The supernatural element adds further drama since you can’t tell whether Charles is working for a vengeful God or has unknowingly made a pact with the devil. Yet the twist doesn’t make the plot any less believable. On the contrary, the story is painfully realistic, especially in its depiction of racism. Here, Grant does an excellent job portraying each character’s struggle as they try to reconcile an ugly past with a progressive world’s changing state of affairs.
All in all, “Brambleman” is a lively and passionate read that leaves you emotionally spent and infinitely wiser by the end, the very hallmark of a compelling book. I highly recommend it to all.
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