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A Free, Unsullied Land

a novel by Maggie Kast

Nineteen-year-old Henriette Greenberg takes her first steps away from an abusive home on the dance floor of a Chicago jazz dive in prohibition-era Chicago and is enraptured by this new music. Struggling to escape a mother who doesn’t like girls and a father who likes young women all too well, she submerges herself in bad sex and political action. She meets and falls in love with Dilly Brannigan, a graduate student in anthropology. Ignoring his warnings, she travels to Scottsboro, Alabama to protest the unfair conviction of nine young black men accused of rape. She adopts Dilly’s work as her own. A powerful funeral ritual gives her hope of re-writing her family story but tempts her to violate an Apache taboo, endangering her life, her love, and her longed-for escape from home.

  • Maggie Kast is the author of The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer’s memoir of loss, faith and family.

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Praise for A Free, Unsullied Land

“Sex, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro Boys, Wobblies, Hitler, Hoovervilles, the Harlem Renaissance, race relations, homosexuality, religion, Native Americans, the Ghost Dance, psychoanalysis, anthropology, poetry, and jazz: these are just some of subjects Maggie Kast addresses in A Free, Unsullied Land, her splendid portrait of the artist as a young woman coming of age in the late twenties and early thirties. Henriette Greenberg is one of the most captivating and compelling characters I’ve encountered in years. At one point in the novel, Henriette tells her lover, “You should know who I am.” Reader, you should too.”

David Jauss, author of Glossolalia: New & Selected Stories, Black Maps, Crimes of Passion and On Writing Fiction (originally published as Alone With All That Could Happen)

“Few novels have so powerfully evoked the longing – and the hope – of individuals at the juncture in which their culture’s delusions are crumbling. In the most surprising and most wonderful ways, it is an epic novel.”

Kevin McIlvoy, author of 58 Octaves Below Middle C, The Complete History of New Mexico, Hyssop, Little Peg, The Fifth Station

“Through Kast’s descriptive powers and her creation of the brilliant and thwarted Henriette, a young woman’s striving to realize herself is as magical and terrifying as Alice’s adventures in wonderland.”

Sharon Solwitz, author of Blood and Milk and Bloody Mary

“Maggie Kast has a terrific ear for speech and a sharp eye for the differences and similarities between depression-era and contemporary lives. Even after she breathes the fresh air of political and sexual revolt, she still must learn some bracing lessons that transcend both.”

Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After and Autobiography of My Mother