Born in her father’s coffee house in Change Alley, London, Sarah Battle is raised in a smoke-thick atmosphere of coffee and alcohol. Witnessing and suffering from the destruction of the Gordon Riots in 1780, she longs to escape her surroundings into a better life.
Her first attempt is via marriage to a man who’s not what she thinks he is. Her second sees her in the new, promising, democratic world of late 1790s Philadelphia where she experiences deep love and warm friendship.
Meanwhile, not far from Battle’s, lives Joseph Young, a highly talented, depressive engraver who picks up Lucy, a girl he finds collapsed in a doorway. Their fraught life, with its connection to an extreme, revolutionary group, contrasts with the joy of Sarah’s brief stay in America.
The two stories weave together and eventually merge in a final exhilarating and dangerous journey, during which Sarah’s vision of both past and future reveals the direction of a new life.
The Flight of Sarah Battle is set in the turbulent last decade of the 18th century in a London where riot constantly rumbles and Bartholomew Fair entertains, and Philadelphia, where new building, hope and a democracy not quite fully-fledged are shadowed by the terrible threat of yellow fever.
‘A well-imagined novel that commands the reader’s attention and admiration. Ms Nathan’s feeling for time and place and her ability to paint persuasive pictures are alike admirable. … the vividness with which she portrays her heroine’s world makes it always interesting and often moving. The Flight of Sarah Battle is the work of a very talented novelist.’
Allan Massie, Wall Street Journal
Alix Nathan talks to New Welsh Review about her novel, The Flight of Sarah Battle.