Wednesday, July 19, 2023

*Review* The House of Lincoln by Nancy Horan


Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: June 6, 2023
Pages: 346

Rich with historical detail, The House of Lincoln is an insightful account of Lincoln's transformative vision for democracy as observed through the eyes of a young immigrant who arrives in Lincoln's home of Springfield, Illinois from Madeira, Portugal.

Showing intelligence beyond society's expectations, fourteen-year-old Ana Ferreira is offered a job in the Lincoln household assisting Mary Lincoln with their boys and with the hosting duties borne by the wife of a rising political star. Ana bears witness to the evolution of Lincoln's views on equality and the Union and observes in full complexity the psyche and pain of his bold, polarizing wife, Mary. Yet, alongside her dearest friend in the Black community, Ana confronts the racial prejudice her friend encounters daily as she watches the inner workings of the Underground Railroad, and directly experiences how slavery contradicts the promise of freedom in her adopted country.

Culminating in an account of the little-known Springfield race riot of 1908, The House of Lincoln takes readers on a journey through the historic changes that reshaped America and continue to reverberate today.

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley. This is my honest review. 

I think every kid in America knows that Lincoln is famous for freeing the slaves, the Emancipation Proclamation ranking up there with Jefferson's Declaration of Independence in noteworthy American documents. This story delves into the behind the scenes of Lincoln's rise to the White House, through the eyes of an immigrant girl who worked for his family. Relaying her backstory to explain how she came to her position in the Lincoln's household, but also what led to her personal political views took a while, which had left me wondering how much of the story could possibly relate to Lincoln. As it turns out, in this story, he was more of a background character. While his life and actions were a driving force for the narrative being portrayed, we didn't really see a whole lot of him as a person. 

Although I'm not an expert on life in Illinois leading up to the Civil War, this felt authentic. I felt like I was a witness to transportation on the Underground Railroad, as if I were being turned away from a department store as a child with my friend, whose skin tone is darker than my own, questioning if my father would be in danger from slave catchers even though we came to America as free people, because when he works in the sun, his skin darkens considerably. I was that solidly ensconced in Ana's shoes. 

I found it interesting getting this seemingly personal glimpse into life in America in the time leading up to Lincoln's election, and even the aftermath of the Civil War and the racial unrest that followed. As a mayonnaise melanated individual, these are experiences that myself and my family are pretty removed from, so this perspective was different and educational for me. 

Overall I give The House of Lincoln 3.978 out of 5 stars, because while I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I was a bit disappointed that Lincoln didn't play a more central role in it. - Katie 

Nancy Horan is the New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky. Loving Frank remained on the NYT list for over a year, has been translated into sixteen languages and received the 2009 Prize for Historical Fiction. A native Midwesterner, Horan was a teacher and journalist before turning to fiction. She lived for 25 years in Oak Park, Illinois, where she raised her two sons, and she now lives with her husband on an island in Puget Sound.

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