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Review from “Readers’ Favorite”

Journey to Colonus, a stupendous novel by Franklin Debrot, is accessible
to readers on every level: plotting, character development and revelation,
dialogue that is authentic in every way, an empathy for racial and
personality differentiation that leaves one wondering about the author’s
own, and prose so exquisite it makes another author weep. Not to
mention, a mesmerizing storyline.
Thomas Doswell is an enigmatic black professor at a southern college,
who has an oddly-earned reputation as an Uncle Tom. Two studentprofessors
come directly under his wing – a young black activist and a
young white scholar – creating a strong thematic tension that ultimately
defines the foundation for a profoundly intriguing plot regarding the
background of Mr. Doswell, ultimately revealing the historical reason
behind his strangely ironic obscurity – a history based on America’s early
leftist movements and revolts.
In Franklin Debrot’s masterful, historically-loaded book, Journey to
Colonus, there is another element that might be overlooked by the less
methodical reader; by the one who is so caught up in the story that he
fails to savor the innate beauty of this writing. I am talking about a
uniquely individual style so beyond the norm in today’s books that one
might mistake it as coming from an earlier classic time. Debrot is so
conscientious about providing descriptive context and atmosphere that the
grateful reader is forced to inhabit this compelling story as a sensory
reality, and the author is so creative and intelligent in his presentation
that one remains constantly amazed, intrigued, and delighted by the
evocative subtlety of his twists in plot. Journey to Colonus is a book to
thoroughly savor. Franklin Debrot is an author to envy and admire … and
enjoy immensely.

Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers’ Favorite

Review by Rachel Hartig

Hartig review

“In Journey to Colonus, Frank Debrot has written an extremely powerful novel. It won’t suffice to read the nine chapters posted on the WEB. You are likely to surrender, as this reader did, to the need to read the complete novel, following his characters until the conclusion of their individual and collective journeys. Be advised that this might mean several sessions of reading until night becomes morning.

Set in Baxter University, an African-American institution, the novel centers on the intersecting lives of two instructors at the college, the white liberal, Jim Allan and his African-American activist colleague, Vincent Brown. Their personal and philosophical conflicts will be mediated by their common mentor, the elderly, brilliant Professor Doswell. The latter, an amazing creation, tired and wounded by his treatment as a black man of an earlier generation, grieving over the suffering his mistakes caused others, remains, nonetheless, a good man dedicated to work, family and friends. His trajectory and the evolution of the two central characters make this novel a profound and hopeful read.”

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Rachel M. Hartig, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. She is the author of Crossing the Divide.

Review by Bill Roberts

Roberts review

Journey To Colonus is not a comfortable book. It offers a view of early and mid twentieth century history and politics that challenges orthodoxy of any kind – and that history is examined through a tale peopled with characters that are rounded and believable and about whom the author makes us care. The historical background is detailed and convincing and the reader is taken to widely disparate locations – post 1917 Moscow, Germany in the thirties, Harlem in the Depression – and shown around by someone who clearly knows the time and place intimately. (Could Frank Debrot really have been there? How old is he? Somebody check.) He really was on campus in the USA in the sixties though, which is the principal setting for the present time sections of the book and his familiarity with the politics – and politicking – of the era is clear. The complexities of the issues in that seminal period of American social history are examined – always in the context of the action, not in any clumsy (and certainly not preachy) way – and the author is not afraid to slaughter the occasional sacred cow.

Reading back over what I’ve just written, I’m conscious that the impression could be given that this is some kind of history textbook. It isn’t – it’s a novel and a very absorbing one. Debrot can do dialogue, he can do humor, he can do description. But most of all he can do believable characterization and the principal character, the black communist apostate Thomas Doswell, will live long in the memory. I enjoyed the book tremendously – it was that rare thing, a novel that is scholarly (occasionally referencing classical literature, philosophers and theologians) and yet also entertaining and dynamic. Can’t wait for his next one.”

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British author Bill Roberts has published many short stories, including “Dances with Dogs” and other adventures. He graduated from St. Peter’s College, Oxford University, in 1975 with an honours degree in Modern Languages.

 

Kirkus Review

Kirkus - enlarged

Below is the full review from Kirkus:

Journey to Colonus

by Franklin Debrot

KIRKUS REVIEW

Debrot’s debut novel considers the achievement and futility of the activist left.

In 1969, historically black Baxter University in sleepy Colonus, North Carolina, is home to a nascent political organization called the Alliance, dedicated to uniting the disparate regional factions of the fractured civil rights movements. The first step is to recruit potential leaders to Baxter’s faculty. One is Vincent Brown, an ambitious black activist from Brooklyn, impressive but proud, distracted, and unafraid of confrontation. Another is Jim Allen, a young, white great-books scholar from the Bronx whose involvement in the movement started completely by accident. The two men hold differing beliefs concerning education, method, and ideology (with a few personal grievances thrown in for good measure). They share an unlikely role model in the form of Thomas Doswell, an old black professor and agitator who teaches the great books at Baxter. Doswell’s personal history with the left, from the labor movement in New Jersey to Communist Moscow to Germany during the rise of Nazism, provides a complex guide to how a man might try to be a positive force for change and whether such change is even possible. Debrot writes in mannered prose that harkens back to the period of Doswell’s youth: plodding, deliberative, highly analytical. That said, the slow narrative style grows on the reader, like the idiosyncrasies of a lecturer; after all, campus novels are about ideas and academics more than action and intrigue (though some intrigue does pop up before too long). The book has an original shape: 50 or 100 or 150 pages in, the reader has no real idea where it’s going, though Debrot inspires enough confidence that the leisurely journey is a welcome one. Doswell’s unlikely back story makes up the true heart of the book, breathing life into some forgotten corners of American history and reminding readers of the human lives among marchers of every political movement. Debrot hasn’t just written an engaging campus novel; he plots the limitations of progressive activism in the 20th century.

An immersive, wide-ranging novel of impressive depth and candor.

Publisher: Manuscript

Program: Kirkus Review

Review Posted Online: March 3rd, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2015

 

Synopsis

This is the synopsis on the back cover.

synopsis

It is the summer that man first walks on the moon, the Vietnam War is
dragging into its sixth year, and riots are breaking out in American cities.
At a black pride university two young men on opposite sides of the racial
divide come to know an elderly and enigmatic teacher with the reputation
of an Uncle Tom. Through the power of Professor Doswell’s character
and the unfolding of his mysterious past, their lives are transformed.

Inspired in part by the true story of Whittaker Chambers, this novel
is grounded in meticulous research based largely on discoveries from
the previously undisclosed Venona Project as well as KGB files opened
to Western scholars following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Front cover

Front

Here is the final front cover design.