Shortlisted for The Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award 2021
The epic journey of a former South Carolina slave into the heart of Revolutionary Ireland.
‘An ambitious and vital novel with an epic sweep. This book is an act of salvage.’ Hilary Mantel
Seventeen years. We were together for seventeen years. I knew him like a Brother.
In a London graveyard in 1857, Miss Harriet Small is approached by a stranger with an intriguing gift for her. In the last will of a woman she barely remembers, Harriet has been left a collection of long-lost papers: her father’s True Narrative of his years after escaping enslavement in America, and his close relationship with Irish revolutionary Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
Nearly sixty years earlier, in the aftermath of Edward’s death and disgrace in the 1798 Rebellion, his sister, Lady Lucy, commissioned Harriet’s father, Mr Anthony Small, to write about his life as Edward’s manservant in the form of a ‘slave narrative’. But what emerges from Faithful Tony’s pages is Lucy’s real motive (revealed in her notes and deletions) to restore Edward’s reputation and his family’s fortunes, as well as a complex, co-dependent and sometimes turbulent allyship between the two men. Tony gains opportunities to work, to prosper, to love, only to be powerless in preventing the devastating events that destroy his master. He learns that the quest to be truly heard is never-ending, and as heartbreaking as it is to read her father’s words, Harriet comes to realise there is more than one way to be free.
Inspired by true events, from war in South Carolina to the genteel drawing rooms of Kildare, from the colonial politics of London to the intrigue and simmering resentments of Dublin, Words to Shape My Name imagines the powerful story that Tony Small might have told, one of hope, failure, resilience and an unbreakable bond.