Shawl’s novel diverges from the historical record when members of the socialist Fabian Society in Great Britain ally themselves with African-American missionaries to purchase from Leopold a territory to be christened “Everfair.” The land is to serve as a utopian safe haven for refugees and former slaves returning from the U.S. Unfortunately, Leopold’s thugs have other ideas, as does Mwenda, the native king of the land.
“Everfair” is a big, complex and engrossing saga, broad in ambition and deep in accomplishment. The time period stretches 30 years, from 1889 to 1919, with each chapter representing a jump of a few days or a few years, lending the story a grand sense of the sweep of history.
The narrative is presented from a variety of viewpoints, including that of an African-American missionary horrified by atrocities he witnesses, a young African refugee able to project her consciousness into animals, and an East Asian engineer capable of inventing machines that will change the world.