PROVIDENCE – Barrington resident Julie Gerstenblatt is the author of the new novel “Daughters of Nantucket,” which will be the subject of this year’s inaugural Behind the Book series, on Oct. 10.
Gerstenblatt, a former English teacher who was born and raised in New York, started visiting Nantucket when she was 8 years old. As an adult, she lived on the Massachusetts island for a year, in a house she intriguingly refers to as “haunted.” (Gerstenblatt’s website, www.juliegerstenblatt.com, offers a video tour of the island, including lots of the places and homes that appear in her novel.)
Nantucket in 1846 was set apart from the mainland by an economy that revolved around whaling, since whale fat was the main energy source at the time, used to produce oil and candles.
The island’s physical isolation and Quaker abolitionist spirit allowed for the rise of some unique progressive realities. Nantucket became a haven for escaped slaves, who were free to seek their fortunes on the island as boat hands, or even captains, on whaling ships.
As a result, a free Black community was able to thrive on the island – which is not to suggest that there wasn’t discrimination.
In addition, because many of the island’s men were away for years at a time, searching for increasingly scarce whales, women were left to run homes and businesses on their own – a level of independence not found elsewhere in the young country.
Despite previous, smaller fires in 1836 and 1838, Nantucket remained an island built of densely packed wooden structures.
With ominous foreshadowing and dramatic tension, Gerstenblatt’s beautiful prose grabs the reader and pulls them into the lives of three women whose paths intersect in the tragic fire that decimated Nantucket in the summer of 1846.
At the time of the fire, each of these women was dealing with individual issues created by the social sensibilities of the time around race, gender and sexuality.
The novel “Vibrates with fascinating history, [an] evocative setting and one of the more colorful casts of characters in recent literature. A novel to be both savored and raced through, and the kind of book that makes reading such a joy,” Natalie Jenner, the best-selling author of “The Jane Austen Society” and “Bloomsbury Girls,” is quoted as saying inside the cover of the book.
On Oct. 10, at 7 p.m., the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island will host “An Evening with Local Author Julie Gerstenblatt,” followed by a Q-and-A, in the Baxt Social Hall at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, 401 Elmgrove Ave., Providence.The cost is $10. Register to attend at www.jewishallianceri.org/events/btb-nantucket.
The author will be available to sign copies of “Daughters of Nantucket” at the event. The book will be available for purchase at the event, or it may be purchased at Books on the Square, in Providence, and other booksellers.
From 7-7:30 p.m., there will be a reception with locally inspired cocktails. The program begins at 7:30.
DEVORAH PHILLIPS (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the manager of arts and culture programming at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.