Paperback / softback
March 31, 2020
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v2.1 Reference

A Wolf by the Ears

We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.
—Thomas Jefferson

During the War of 1812, thousands of enslaved people from plantations across the Tidewater rallied to the British side, turning against an American republic that had barred them from the promises of freedom and democracy. Set against the backdrop of rebellion and war, Wayne Karlin's A Wolf by the Ears follows the interconnected stories of Towerhill and Sarai, two African slaves, and their master, Jacob Hallam. Educated side-by-side and inseparable as children, the three come of age as they are forced to grapple with—and break free of—the fraught linkage of black and white Americans and how differently each defines what it means to fight for freedom. Sarai and Jacob are caught in the tension between the dream of equality, the reality of slavery, and their own hearts, while Towerhill sits at the head of a company of black marines that is part of the force that takes Washington and watches the White House burn.

About the Author

WAYNE KARLIN is the author of seven novels, including Marble Mountain, The Wished-for Country, and Prisoners. The recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Paterson Prize for Fiction, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Excellence in the Arts Award, he makes his home in Saint Mary's County, Maryland.


"A Wolf by the Ears is a splendid novel filled with well-honed characters who offer a new dimension about American slavery and what it did to us. Karlin's picture of wartime is vivid, haunting, and unforgettable, showing us war in language that makes him seem not just a storyteller but a witness. This novel is inspired, a gift, and a pure treasure."—Edward P. Jones, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Known World

"A Wolf by the Ears chronicles the ordeals of two slaves among thousands in Maryland and Virginia who joined the British side in the forgotten War of 1812 against the American 'republic' and its hypocrisies, all for the cause of freedom promised by their monarchist allies and denied by a democracy built on slavery. Karlin makes this profoundly ironic and contradictory history so human and intimate, so tragic and yet redemptive, testimony to his great skill as a storyteller and his experience with the realities of war."—Martín Espada, author of Vivas to Those Who Have Failed: Poems

"Here is a complexly imagined record of the catastrophes and dreaming out of which the nation emerges. A dissection of the country within 'The Country,' the then within the now. But what makes this work pulse with vitality is Karlin's attention to that which is fleeting—the smallest instant, the slightest flesh. Lush, elemental, seeping with place, this novel is a reckoning, a confrontation, an excavation of a history made of breath and touch."—Aracelis Girmay, author of The Black Maria

"Wayne Karlin's love of justice and the calling of his just art celebrate the ways struggle triumphs in the face of despair. He refracts the past against the present and makes us examine how we live now and ask why the moral dilemma of this time seems so reminiscent of that past. In A Wolf by the Ears Karlin writes at the height of his imaginative powers."—Fred D'Aguiar, author of Children of Paradise

"This is a novel of tremendous emotional complexity, of cruelty 'grown from the need to see oneself as kind.' The language is lush, and the wound deep and abiding."—Noy Holland, Juniper Prize for Fiction judge and author of I Was Trying to Describe What It Feels Like

"This is a novel that vividly examines the struggle of enslaved people to find their freedom, dignity and self-worth as our country struggled—as it still does—to define those values in the face of a reality created dependent on chattel slavery and continued with a legacy of institutionalized racism."—Michael Glaser, former poet laureate of Maryland

9781625345035 : a-wolf-by-the-ears-karlin
Paperback / softback
March 31, 2020
$22.95 USD

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