The only mention of sisters Jude and Diana in Nova Scotia’s official history relates to their deaths: a slave-owning family was brought to trial for murder in 1801. They were acquitted. Sharon Robart-Johnson honours these archival glimpses of enslaved people by re-creating the fullness of Jude and Diana’s lives. Through Robart-Johnson’s meticulous research, we experience eighteenth-century Yarmouth and Shelburne, where political debates about abolishing slavery were only just beginning to emerge. Through Robart-Johnson’s creativity, we encounter Jude, a rebellious, endearing young woman whose fierce love of family connects us to her sweet, intelligent sister, Diana. Their stories may be hard to read for some, but despite the cruelty they endured, their humour, strength, and dignity shine brightly. Robart-Johnson’s project to reveal the brutality experienced by enslaved Black people in Canada is crucial. More than two hundred years later, this story rings uncannily true; in 2020, murderers of Black people are still brought to court and acquitted. May Jude and Diana’s lives contribute to the coming transformation.
This book contains scenes of racialized physical, sexual, and emotional violence.
“How do we honour the lives of two enslaved women who were murdered in Nova Scotia? Sharon Robart-Johnson does that through her deft recreation of the lives of Jude and Diana, who endured cruelty and brutalization at the hands of their White enslavers. The author excavates the story, and through fiction, brings it into the light of day. Jude and Diana speak once more. And what a story they tell! By speaking the names of Jude and Diana, and putting flesh on the bones of their story, Robart-Johnson provides what was denied them at the hands of the magistrates of Yarmouth County—justice. The author does not shy away from recounting the violence of brutalization Whites wrought on the bodies and soul of Black people. But through her achingly beautiful writing, she restores Black humanity and hope. Let your heart be moved by the sorrow and pain that is continuously braided through the story. Weep for the lost lives of these two women. And be outraged. Let your anger move you to commit to creating a world of justice and beauty. The story of Jude and Diana has finally come to light and we thank Sharon Robart-Johnson for being the torchbearer.”
— Dr. Afua Cooper, Author of Black Matters and The Hanging of Angelique
“Sharon Robart-Johnson imagines Jude and Diana out of the depths of the colonizer’s archives. Let us seek them, celebrate them, and with Robart-Johnson, listen for the lessons they might have for us today.”
— Lynn Jones, creator of The Lynn Jones African-Canadian & Diaspora Heritage Collection in the Saint Mary’s University Archives
“Meticulously researched and unflinching in detail, Jude and Diana puts flesh and bones on the plight of enslaved Black people in Nova Scotia, who are too often reduced to a sterile footnote in the polite version of Canadian history. In its explorations of Black dignity, deferred justice, and the responsibility of “good” white bystanders, this historical novel is deeply relevant for our present time.”
— Chad Lucas, journalist and author of Thanks A Lot, Universe
“This is a story of Jude whose strong will and unyielding spirit resisted the cruel bonds of slavery in Nova Scotia where she hoped to find freedom and, instead, found her place in history.”
— Rosemarie Nervelle, Author of Swamp Robin: A Memoir