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The Right-Hand Shore

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  730 ratings  ·  141 reviews
A masterful novel that confronts the dilemmas of race, family, and forbidden love in the wake of America's Civil War

Fifteen years after the publication of his acclaimed novel Mason's Retreat, Christopher Tilghman returns to the Mason family and the Chesapeake Bay in The Right-Hand Shore.

It is 1920, and Edward Mason is making a call upon Miss Mary Bayly, the current owner o
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Diane Barnes
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: motley-crew
I knew I would like this from the start, because I read "Mason's Retreat" by the same author, and was hoping for a book just as good. It was a perfect novel in every way, fabulous writing throughout, not a false note anywhere, and an unparalleled story of love and hate and hopes and dreams.
This book is a prequel of sorts to Mason's Retreat, which is a plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Beginning in 1862 with the selling of most of the slaves on the plantation to prevent repercussions
Jan 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Opening this book is like falling into a time machine -- this place in space and history so beautifully rendered you'll feel disoriented getting back to 2012. Tilghman is a master writer, who spins a Shakesperean tale with effortless grace through deep booming themes and small moments of exquisite meaning. I am a fan.
Kat Warren
Apr 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Mighty tasty.

Disguised as a generational saga, this book is a glorious examination of the sins of the father(s), the sons and the daughters; slavery and the Civil War; Maryland flora and fauna; Catholicism in Maryland; 19th-century education in the U.S.; dairy farming; interracial love; and, skimped but there, Black separatism. Enthralling read and, dare I say, unputdownable.
Mar 28, 2013 rated it did not like it
This week, for the first time in years, I've been knocked off my feet with the flu. After spending 24 hours in bed, I finally managed to prop my head up and start reading this book. I was thrilled that I'd brought it home from the library the day before the flu hit; the book sounded exactly like the type of book I enjoy (family saga from 1800's). If you have to be home, too sick to move from your bed, you might as well have a good book.

Wrong! I slogged through 252 pages, hoping that it would get
Jaime Boler
May 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Bound to the Land

The Right-Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 368 pages; $27).

With The Right-Hand Shore, Christopher Tilghman gives us a quietly beautiful novel about a family, a place, and the ties that both bind and constrain them.

The title refers to Mason's Retreat, an estate on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The Masons have been part of the land since the days after the Gunpowder Plot when their ancestor, the Emigrant, was exiled there. Like people, the land can be c
Jill Manske
Nov 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
Finished, but didn't finish. I have a 50-page rule. If a book fails to capture my attention in 50 pages, I usually give up on it. Life's too short to read bad books, especially when there are shelves filled with thousands of good, unread books. If there's a glimmer of promise within the first 50 pages, I'll give it another 50. But this book failed after the first 50. I have no idea how it ends, nor do I care. Just plain boring. Don't bother.
Jan 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars, read-in-2013
In a nutshell, this book is about chickens coming home to roost. Edward Mason comes to buy Mason's retreat from his distant (and dying) relative Miss Mary Bayly. His plans for the Retreat don't include much; his life mostly lies in England. But in the course of the day spent on the Retreat talking to Miss Mary and her farm manager, Mr. French, Edward learns the history of the place. It all begins with Mary's grandfather, the unlamented "Duke" selling his field slaves in 1857 to a man from Virgin ...more
Jul 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
• I am really glad I read this book – I really enjoyed it. I will admit that my least fav parts of the book were the first two chapters and the last chapter – but these chapters do connect the book to Mason’s Retreat which was a prior book yet it takes place after TRHS.
• One of the reasons that I enjoyed the book was because of its location/setting – MD Eastern Shore. When living in MD – did research on the early history and slavery of the state and visited the Eastern Shore and other related ar
Since I live on the "right-hand shore" -- in Queen Anne's County, Maryland (and even know a Mason family who owns a peach orchard), I expected that I would be prejudiced in favor of, or extremely critical of, this book. The story starts out before the Civil War and ends in 1920, covering three generation of a family, two of them minutely. The story is told in flashback by an employee to a possibly inheritor of the farm. While not really identifying closely with any character, I found my interest ...more
Aug 18, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a prequel to the author's earlier publish novel, Mason's Retreat. It's not necessary to have read that.

What I truly enjoy about Tilghman's writing is the ease with which his sentences flow in graceful, descriptive phrases. Some of it is almost poetic. He lives in Charlottesville, VA where he is the director of creative writing at UVA.

This is a multi-layered story that takes place on an estate/plantation on Chesapeake Bay dating back to Emancipation. It easily moves through several gener
Jun 20, 2012 rated it liked it
The themes of love, pride, and racism could have been more thoroughly explored by a better writer. It took at least 70 pages before I cared. But in the end I still wanted more from the events that unfolded. The author just isn't skilled enough to jump from past to present. It could be an effective way to tell the story but it was confusing in this case. Nor was the author skilled enough to pull off the nuanced ending. overall very disappointed I a book that tried to depict such a rich time in hi ...more
Jul 20, 2012 rated it liked it
It took me a long time to read this because it wasn't smooth flowing from chapter to chapter. Each chapter was usually about a different person on the Retreat. It was wonderfully written though. No wonder Christopher Tilghman is the Director of Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia. Excellent book if you don't mind the fact that you don't necessarily want to pick it up every time you sit down.
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Ok, let me say that I started to read this book and thought "oh no, I made a mistake in buying this". That lasted until about page 10. Once there, I could not put this down. Beautifully written with haunting, unforgettable characters in a unique time and a relatively unknown place in American history, this is just an outstanding book. Highly recommended.
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
Disappointing after how much I enjoyed Mason's Retreat
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful tale of the complicated relationships on a plantation before and after the abolishment of slavery. Very moving.
Nancy Cook-senn
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
Beautiful writing, intriguing tale, but author tells the story rather than letting reader experience it -- and he makes sure to include ALL his research on peach growing and dairy farming.
Kristina Harper
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-fiction
This is an epic tale of a Maryland family surrounded by tragedy from just before the Civil War through the early days of the 20th Century. Living on Mason’s Retreat, the family property that once saw slaves cruelly sold from its shore, the Mason family’s fortunes, emotional and financial, rise and fall as heartbreak of one kind or another touches everyone. This is a followup to Tilghman’s Mason’s Retreat, a book I have to add to my list: a riveting story, well told.
Elizabeth Managan
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it
More like a 3.5. The sense of place is great, and Mary, Thomas, and Randall are all very strong characters, but Beal and Ophelia are incomplete. Also, at times I got too much about peaches and dairies.
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
A slow starter for me but once it got into the detail of the past stories of The Retreat, it sucked me in. Set on the banks of the Chesapeake across from Baltimore, it was local to this reader which made it even more interesting. A good one for discussion at book group.
Apr 08, 2019 rated it liked it
At first I had a hard time getting into this book. But as I kept reading and learned more about the characters it turned into a pretty good read.
Linda Kohl
Interesting, local history
Agnes Benis
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written sad book. It opens with Mary interviewing one of two candidates for her to leave the Mason estate upon her death. (She is dying) Edward Mason intends to use the farm as an investment and not live there as Mary would prefer. He does not tell her this outright and they spar back and forth. Mary is not enthralled with Edward, but makes the decision that he will inherit.

From this interview day, the story of the farm,the Eastern shore and its inhabitants unfolds. Mary's
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is an incredibly beautiful, sad, and wonderful book. It is a prequel to the book "Mason's Retreat" that he published 16 yrs. ago. This book traces the history of the Retreat starting at the point when in 1857, the owner of the property sells all of his slaves at "30 cents to the dollar," keeping only a few house slaves, because he knows that slavery is coming to an end. (Later his daughter in a spin worthy of any current politician says that he emancipated them!)

The story starts with a di
Catherine Woodman
Apr 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
The novel is set on Maryland's Eastern Shore, more specifically on a farm that's been in Tilghman's family since 1657 where he's been going since he was a child. It's a landscape to which he keeps returning– or perhaps can't escape– with this prequel to his 1996 book, 'Mason's Retreat'. I didn't realize that there was a personal connection to the house and the property when I read the first book, but it makes sense--the obsession with the land is something that the author and his characters shar ...more
Nov 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
This pearl of a book tells the story of a pivotal place and time in American history. The characters, their stories and the landscape are memorable and rendered tenderly. The details of Chesapeake Bay living are just right. I went hunting for the prequel to this (actually a sequel) before I got many pages into the story. More, please! Tilghman writes beautifully:

"Of all the potential hardships of marriage, this slow, dispiriting tug-of-war between two people simply trying to be, yet being thwart
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Although this book took a few chapters to get in to, by the middle, everything seemed so real and NOW that I forgot it was told as a series of flashbacks!

Beautifully told, history (late 1800's-early 1900's), race relations and economics are viewed through the lens of the Mason family in the northeast United States. There are too many memorable characters to name, both good and bad. There's enough heartache, triumph and drama to make you beleive the Masons are a real family, and live on a real f
Oct 19, 2012 rated it liked it
This book gives a feeling of place as much as it develops characters. Having gone to camp in St Michaels as a child and lived on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, author Tilghman, of the many Md Tilghman's has evoked the ruralland and water. We have a family story about a husband and wife from Pittsburgh who went to the Eastern Shore about the time this book was written. They spent their summer raising cantelopes, had a good crop and got them on the train for Baltimore, then the train bro ...more
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written historical novel which takes place in the region of the author's ancestors...Queen Anne County, on the Eastern Shore of MD....This was recommended by my local book group and it intrigued me as well because I live in Queen Anne county, MD, where much of the action of the novel takes place and I have a passion for black history and the complicated legacy that slavery has left a mark on black and white relationships...Tilghman pulls the reader into the personal and pol ...more
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great story. Stayed up really late the last night, wanting to know what happened to Thomas and Beal.

Not five stars, because some parts were a little boring.

Having read Mason's Retreat first, I felt that Edward Mason was not worthy of hearing the story that Mr. French (one of my favorite characters-the others being Tabitha and Beal's parents), told. Also, the conceit of the book--that Mr. French is telling the story--doesn't always work since he could not have known about Mary's life in the con
A young man aspiring to inherit an estate from a dying old woman listens to stories, the history of that estate. It is told by the people who work there, over the course of a day. It doesn't induce the young man to foil his plans to stay in England and relocate, but that isn't the point. The history is engaging, the voice lively even though the story itself is melancholic. The Retreat is cursed, and nothing good can happen in it. Slavery is the root of this, and murder is at the heart.

I did not
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Christopher Tilghman is the author of two short-story collections, In a Father’s Place, and The Way People Run, and three novels, The Right-Hand Shore, Mason’s Retreat and Roads of the Heart. Currently the director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia, he and his wife, the writer Caroline Preston, live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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