Provenance by Donna Drew Sawyer
By Donna Drew Sawyer
Winner of the 2017 Maryland Writers' Association Award for Historical Fiction. Southern civility turns savage when Hank Whitaker’s dying words reveal the unimaginable. No one—not his socialite wife, Maggie, or young son, Lance—ever suspected the successful businessman, husband and father they loved, and thought they knew, was a black man passing for white. In 1931, in the segregated South, marriage between whites and blacks is illegal. Maggie faces jail for her crime of interracial marriage, but when Lance receives death threats to atone for his father’s betrayal, the family decides to flee the U.S. for freedom in racially and socially liberal society in Paris, France.
Still grieving Hank’s death and fearful of their uncertain future as Europe marches toward war, Lance and Maggie mourn the lives they loved but lost. As they struggle to create new identities for themselves, they find a surprising community of artists and American expats that are on the same journey. In a new city, with new friends, new loves and exciting possibilities, they start to believe that it might be possible to change everything, even the past.
Provenance is a sweeping historical saga about love, betrayal, tragedy, triumph, passion, privilege and the universal desire for acceptance—regardless of who you are or where you’re from.
This book was an enjoyable, quick read that was easy to keep reading. There are huge themes of status, race and survival in this book. You really feel for Hank and his own survival story as he is able to get away with passing for most of his life - although it did weigh him down from having to keep this huge secret. I enjoyed the early characters - minus Charlotte. Although when the family gets to France I felt that the book slowed down quite a bit and didn’t have that original message of what your race means and the historical implications of that time. I thought the ending was done well but we still have many unanswered secrets and questions about Hank’s family and how Lance is living his life. The book had a good premise, message and insight on passing in the early 1900s - but I wanted it to be more real and felt like it could have been more emotional of a read.