The Book Mark

Books that make the grade.

Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemmings


Many people would break out into a cold sweat if handed a 600+ page book to read. When I saw Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemmings (A) by Stephen O’Connor at the library my heart started to race with excitement. Having recently read America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laurie Kamoie, my curiosity was peaked by the subject. What would O’Connor write differently than Dray and Kamoie? What more could I learn about Sally Hemmings and her life with Thomas Jefferson?

O’Connor wrote in his Author’s Note that “he leapt straight into writing, composing scenes entirely out of chronological order and switching randomly between realism, fabulism, essay, prose poetry and quotation”. His goal was to compose a novel that would depict Jefferson and Hemmings in “fresh and surpising ways”. O’Connor was extremely successful. His delivery was such that I honestly feel like I know Sally Hemmings. To date, there isn’t much known about her but O’Connor made her real, believable and honest. He incorporated the facts about Jefferson’s life into every day life at Monticello both political and private. While it was a reach for me to understand some of his “fabulism”, I enjoyed his unique approaches ie, subway scenes, a biographical movie and character interviews.

Maybe Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemmings isn’t for the average reader but those who enjoy historical fiction will devour it. I honestly read 600 pages in four days. I didn’t want it to end. If you will only tolerate factual accountings then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you approach this novel with an open mind and curiosity you will not be disappointed. Perhaps a more accurate title for this book should be “Stephen O’Connor’s Imagines Thomas Jefferson Dreaming of Sally Hemmings.


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