Anita M. Cal is an award-winning screenwriter and former Los Angeles Times Reporter. Her first novel,Eighth Wonder: The Thomas Bethune Story., has been chosen as part of Library Journal’s Self-e curated selections for libraries. Award-winning pianist, John Davis, called it a “welcome addition to the mounting body of artistic works inspired by Thomas Wiggins,” and “absolutely riveting.”
Excerpt: The echoes of Mozart began to melt away. The Colonel studied Thomas: head tilted oddly, swaying back forth like he was his own metronome. Tiny feet, without shoes, covered with mud, his puny legs swinging haphazardly from the piano bench. He looked for some signpost of greatness he may have missed. There was none. There was stunned silence as the final notes disappeared, The tiny, undisciplined blind slave child–who broke Frances’ fine dishes and spilled expensive wines, the boy who mimicked frogs and was an insult to the senses–that boy, that child, was playing the piano like a trained master. Having his way with their beloved pianoforte.
Thomas Wiggins Bethune was a 19th century celebrity and the first African-American to perform at the White House. His musical achievements and abilities are well-documented though not well-known.
Author Anita M. Cal seeks to change that in her novel based on his life. She presents a page-turning portrait of Blind Tom, a musical savant born into slavery, who quickly grew into a world-wide cultural phenomenon.
The story is told from the point of view of Colonel Bethune, the man who bought the piano prodigy and his family from a ruthless slave trader. When Tom’s musical talents became evident, the Colonel toured him around the U.S. and the world, making a fortune off the slave’s incredible performances.
Cal has a way with a story and kept me turning pages to find out the fates of both the prodigy and the Colonel. The tension rises throughout and the author paints a full-bodied picture of Colonel Bethune rather than a one-dimensional one as the heartless villain. She creates believable characters that leave the reader with a vested interest in the outcome.
Set during the intrigue and drama of the abolitionist movement, the Civil War, and the Great Emancipation, Cal probes the lingering scars of slavery, and weaves an enthralling tapestry of questions, with no easy answers, regarding the definition of family, love, loyalty, and freedom.