We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

In the Upper Country

On sale

12th January 2023

Price: £9.99

The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, 2024

Select a format

Selected: ebook / ISBN-13: 9781529389623

Disclosure: If you buy products using the retailer buttons above, we may earn a commission from the retailers you visit.


‘Fresh and propulsive . . . a veneration of those whose tales are often forgotten’ New York Times

‘A mesmerizing, lyrical testament to the power of storytelling’ Atwood Gibson Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize judges

Freedom, you can’t get and bury, and keep it and keep it so it won’t ever go away.
No, child.
You got to swing your freedom like a club.

In 1859, deep in the forests of Canada, an elderly woman sits behind bars. She came to Dunmore via the Underground Railroad to escape enslavement, but an American bounty hunter tracked her down. Now she’s in jail for killing him, and the fragile peace of Dunmore, a town settled by people fleeing the American south, hangs by a thread.

Lensinda Martin, a smart young reporter, wants to gather the woman’s testimony before she can be condemned, but the old woman has no time for confessions. Instead she proposes a barter: a story for a story.

As the women swap stories – of family and first loves, of survival and freedom against all odds – Lensinda must face her past. And it seems the old woman may carry a secret that could shape Lensinda’s destiny.

Travelling along the path of the Underground Railroad from the American South to British Canada, from the Indigenous nations around the Great Lakes, to the Black refugee communities of Canada, In the Upper Country is an unforgettable debut about the interwoven history of peoples in North America, slavery and resistance, and two women reckoning with the stories they’ve been given, and the ones they want to tell.


George Elliot Clarke, critically acclaimed poet and novelist
In the Upper Country is not only fiction alive with history; it is historic. This masterful novel is the first to narrate the forging of the Afro-Métis - or Black & Indigenous - people out of European (or Indigenous) enslavement . . . practically every page turns up a sentence or a phrase that could have been penned by Toni Morrison or James Baldwin
Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of Libertie
A sweeping epic that imagines all the ways our ancestors tried to get free. This is an exciting voice in fiction, as interested in the complexities of land and belonging as in the vagaries of human love and connection
Shani Mootoo, author of Polar Vortex
Stories within stories; until I read them, I hadn't realised these are ones I'd long been wanting, needing even. In this remarkable debut, Kai Thomas fills out the picture of a place, a time, peoples and their relationships, all previously neglected in the day-to-day unfolding of the nations. His immensely compelling details, and a host of voices so well-wrought you can see and hear the speakers long after you've finished reading, will leave you eager to see what he'll do next
Kirkus, starred review
The harshly real and the fantastic mingle in ways that recall Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Water Dancer and Esi Edugyan's Washington Black. What's most impressive is Thomas's imaginative power; sure-handed, often lyrical prose; and strong, complex, resilient women. An exceptional work that mines a rich historical vein
Waubgeshig Rice, bestselling author of Moon of the Crusted Snow
Tremendous . . . In the Upper Country enlightens and empowers in a way few other literary sagas can, by humanizing people who have long been historical footnotes and bringing their stories to the centre. Kai Thomas is a visionary, an advocate, and overall a groundbreaking storytelling voice who has now contributed a classic to this country's canon. This novel will resonate for generations to come
Publishers Weekly, starred review
Mesmerizing . . . at once intimate and majestic, Thomas's ambitious work heralds a bright new voice
Book Riot
The old woman will tell her story, if Lensinda shares one of her own. Thus begins an incredible exchange that reveals an interconnected history of love and survival for the Black and Indigenous peoples of North America.
Toronto Star
A Gothic-tinged puzzle box of a novel . . . there's undeniable force to the embedded stories and the historical truths they bring to vivid life
Library Journal
Groundbreaking . . . This fascinating series of stories within stories reflects the fragmentary history of African and Indigenous people experiencing the effects of enslavement. Engrossing and intensely readable, this book represents just the beginning of a larger narrative, with many chapters yet to be told; very highly recommended
2023 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize Jury (francescaekwuyasi, Alix Hawley, MG Vassanji)
Exceptional . . . Kai Thomas deftly and compassionately braids deeply engrossing stories within stories that explore a little-known aspect of Canadian history. In the Upper Country is a mesmerizing, lyrical testament to the power of storytelling, as this is among the protagonists' tools for survival in a harsh reality rife with violence and dehumanization.