By Bryan T. Clark
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
In 1845, as America is drowning in its own racial conflict, in a time when forbidden love has to remain a secret, can two young men find love when one has everything to lose, and the other has nothing?
For Tobias, a young African man, life has ended before it began. Snatched abruptly from his homeland and enslaved into the Antebellum South, grand homes and majestic oak trees meant little to him. Now he is considered the property of other men, but his spirit would not be broken.
The awkward Benjamin Nathanael Lee lives a privileged life. His father owns the largest tobacco plantation south of the Mason Dixon line. Ben wants little to do with the harsh realities of running a plantation—that is, until he meets Tobias, the one person that changes everything for him.
Wealth, greed, and power brought them together. The same now threatens to separate them forever. The two men are on the verge of losing the one thing that matters: their love for one another. Against the odds, they steal off and embark on a journey to find freedom: the freedom to love one another and to live a life without the chains of slavery.
Come to the Oaks is the tale of a forbidden romance—a love forged by two young men as they journey through a land that is tearing itself apart.
“It was a journey filled with sorrow and pain, yet rich in love and hope.”
This is not a simple book with simply characters, simple meaning, and simple interpretation – nor is it a fun, easy read – it’s meant to be absorbed, experienced.
The author fluently weaves so many emotions, realizations, and realities with doses of innocence, discovery, pain, joy, fear, pride, and love into the tapestry of this story. It’s an intense concoction that keeps the reader engrossed and invested in Ben’s and Tobias’ relationship and subsequent journey to freedom where they can live and love with freely.
The love story between Ben and Tobias takes root when Benjamin Lee happens to catch sight of the sickly Mamadou Masamba coiled up in the corner of a holding cell awaiting the slave auction – or more likely eventual death considering his neglected state. For a reason immediately unknown to him, Ben insists on purchasing the Negro as his own – he will not leave the auction without him.
The author’s vivid, thorough, and eloquent writing style guides the reader on his own journey, one that demands a critical and uncomfortable confrontation with numerous upsetting events broached through the lens of culture, politics, racial tensions, ignorance, spiritual beliefs, and prejudice. Many characters cross paths with Ben and Tobias throughout the book, and each one plays a distinct role in steadily moving the story along. From pure evil – Dexter – to innocence lost – Pearl – to those like Miss Gee-Gee who experienced her own unimaginable horrors at the hands of her master’s merciless wife, the contrast and goodness Ben conveyed in so candidly expressing his love to and for Tobias, was tangible across the pages.
One thing about “Come to the Oaks: The Story of Ben and Tobias” that I’m absolutely certain of is that it will haunt me for a long time to come.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book.
Original review posted on Amazon and Goodreads on May 22, 2017.