Phoenix Books publisher Francesca Main has snapped up a novel by US author Dolen Perkins-Valdez with “powerful themes of race, class and eugenics”, in an overnight pre-empt.
Main signed UK and Commonwealth rights in If This is Peace, and another title, for her new Orion imprint from Stephanie Cabot at Susanna Lea Associates. Cabot also sold North American rights to Amanda Bergeron at Berkley in a “major” deal.
Set in 1970s Alabama, the novel tells of a black nurse who makes a shocking discovery about two young sisters in her care, and her fight against the systematic sterilisation of women and girls across the US. The book is based loosely on the case of Mary Alice and Minnie Lee Relf, who were involuntarily sterilised at a federally-funded clinic in Alabama when they were 14 and 12 respectively. The sisters’ subsequent lawsuit against the US government put the issue of forced sterilisation in the national spotlight.
Main said: “I read If This is Peace compulsively, unable to put it down until its bittersweet conclusion. It explores powerful themes of race, class and eugenics, but is above all the deeply moving, unforgettable story of a health worker’s love for two girls in her care and pursuit of both justice and redemption. It feels like a modern classic and an international bestseller in the making.”
Perkins-Valdez is the author of two US bestsellers, 2010’s Wench and 2015’s Balm; both are set around the American Civil War era and explore slavery and race relations.
She said: “When I learned of this case, I could not help but wonder how something like this was allowed to happen. The result of my inability to shake this thought is this novel, which raises questions of culpability and ethics in a society that deems poor, black and disabled as categories unfit for motherhood—questions that remain salient today.”
Picture: Gianni Neiviller