By Nicole D. Hayes
Celebrating the 20th anniversary this year of her national bestselling novel, Tumbling, Diane McKinney-Whetstone returns to her Philadelphia roots to bring us a new Black historical novel. Set in 19thCentury post-Civil War era, it is laced with secrets, love, loss, and healing that intersect at the legendary Lazaretto—America’s first quarantine hospital.
Lazaretto, McKinney-Whetstone’s sixth novel released this month, touches on racial prejudice, social justice, and gender equality—issues still debated today. Like all her previous works, McKinney-Whetstone writes from the place that she knows best, setting this story in “the City of Brotherly Love.”
As noted by Essence magazine editor Patrik Henry Bass, Lazaretto is a novel “quite unlike anything McKinney-Whetstone has done or anything you’ll read – in wonderful ways.” The author uses “poetic language and graphic depictions of the injustices suffered by African Americans in the post-Civil War period,” as told by Booklist.
Isolated on an island where two rivers meet, the Lazaretto quarantine hospital is the first stop for immigrants who wish to begin new lives in Philadelphia. The island is the venue for a wedding for a member of the hospital’s Black live-in staff. On the eve of the ceremony, celebration is interrupted by intrigue and tragedy. Intertwined with the drama unfolding at the Lazaretto are deeply textured characters forged by family, fate and the twists of peril and fortune. More than a page-turner, the elements move you beyond the moment back into history and then forward to the contemporary challenges of race, rights, family and addiction that still confront us.
McKinney-Whetstone has primed her faithful and newest readers to anticipate her masterful storytelling and creative blending of flawed characters. One flawed character in Lazaretto, portrays a false life to separate from their painful past.
“This is probably something unconscious,” says McKinney-Whetstone, referencing the character development. “We all walk around with all of our different selves. In one situation we are one person, in another someone else. We all just want to be known and to hide simultaneously.”
Says McKinney-Whetstone of her newest work:
“In my latest novel, Lazaretto, I return to doing what I most love to do: telling stories of everyday people existing in families and communities; characters faltering, yielding to their desires, falling, fighting, climbing, reaching for their better selves.”
Through her previous novels and newest, McKinney-Whetstone reaffirms that in spite of injustices we have suffered as a people, resiliency is our story.
Lazaretto is available from Amazon.
National bestselling novelist, Diane McKinney-Whetstone, has taught fiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania. She resides in Philadelphia with her husband Greg. To learn more about Ms. McKinney-Whetstone and her books, visit http://www.mckinney-whetstone.com/ . Also read Q & A “Secrets, Place and Race: A Conversation with Diane McKinney-Whetstone.” http://mckpr.com/secrets-place-and-race-a-conversation-with-diane-mckinney-whetstone