Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Twelve Years a Slave (the book)

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know the story. Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York is kidnapped and sold into slavery, where he struggles to regain his freedom after twelve years. I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie. So many of my friends have said the movie was difficult to watch.

Of course there is violence and torture in the narrative of Solomon who has to take on the name of Platt to avoid further floggings. But beyond the descriptions of the vilest nature of slavery in these United States, we hear the voice of Solomon who sees his life as evidence against the myth that slaves are better off on the plantation.

As a side note, I remember the history books of my elementary school days during the years of Jim Crow, saying slaves were happy and sang a lot.

What is most fascinating for me about this book is its being published and achieving best seller status before it went into obscurity, only to be rediscovered in the 1960's. What a treasure this book is.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Men We Reaped

Men We Reaped: A MemoirMen We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title comes from a quote by Harriet Tubman, "We heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped."

Jesmyn Ward is becoming one of my favorite authors. This memoir was painful to read, but held together by her beautiful prose.

She tells the story of lost young men, her cousins and brother, growing up poor, black and male in Mississippi. Mississippi of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," Mississippi of Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam."

She survived as the oldest girl of her parents, on the determination of her mother to get her out of the cycle of poverty, especially after her father left. A single mother can teach her daughter how to hold the family together, but she can't teach a son how to be a man. So many of the young men growing up in DeLisle, MS were lost, school drop-outs, caught up in a drug culture, or merely in the wrong place at the wrong time at two o'clock in the morning.

It's a mournful story, and the author still mourns the loss over thirteen years after those deaths.

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