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Dessa Rose

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  385 ratings  ·  35 reviews
This acclaimed historical novel is based on two actual incidents: In 1829 in Kentucky, a pregnant black woman helped lead an uprising of a group of slaves headed to the market for sale. She was sentenced to death, but her hanging was delayed until after the birth of her baby. In North Carolina in 1830, a white woman living on an isolated farm was reported to have given san ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 20th 1999 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1986)
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Roots by Alex HaleyUncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher StoweWench by Dolen Perkins-ValdezThe Color Purple by Alice WalkerIncidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
Books about American slavery
35th out of 166 books — 209 voters
Table 21 by T. Rafael CiminoKindred by Octavia E. ButlerWench by Dolen Perkins-ValdezNative Son by Richard WrightThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Books with Black Protagonists
17th out of 50 books — 40 voters

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Community Reviews

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I have been looking for a novel that is not as challenging as Beloved to use in my American Studies class. Morrison's novel is so rich in language and image and provides an incredible number of unique insights into the experience of slavery and the impact of slavery on people, black and white, slave and free. So that is a lot to replace. I am not sure I will end up replacing it in the end, but reading several other options is a good exercise.

So I'll start with that point: Dessa Rose is a good o
i became aware of this in an essay by mae gwendolyn henderson : and immediately wanted to read more of this book. the story-story-within-a-story construct really interesting and effective. we learn this woman's history as she tells it to her captor. henderson's essay underlined the differences between written and spoken language, particularly as that difference relates to african and african-american language and culture. williams' book is a novel and nev ...more
Loved the novel. I can't believe that I waited so long to discover and read it. I might think about assigning it in my American Slavery course or my History and Memory course. Even if I don't assign the novel, I will definitely cherish the powerful story and the beautiful writing.
Periodic African American novels are my cheese cake...yum
Was into it in the beginning but it lost me in the latter part of the novel. It felt like it was purposefully slow and building to something but then the ending was rushed. Switch to first person was jarring. Ironically, for a novel primarily about characters the two main characters are pretty vague. Their relationship with each other is stagnant for a good chunk of the novel, but by the time they start to warm up to each other/become friends it takes place in the span of only 20 pages or so, wh ...more
Tessa Pitre
From the "Author's Note:"
"Dessa Rose is based on two historical incidents. A pregnant black woman helped to lead an uprising on a coffle (a group of slaves chained together and herded, usually to market) in 1829 in Kentucky. Caught and convicted, she was sentenced to death; her hanging, however, was delayed until after the birth of her baby. In North Carolina in 1830, a white woman living on an isolated farm was reported to have given sanctuary to runaway slaves. I read of the first incident in
Quiniece Sheppard
Lately, I've been reading a lot of books on slavery and even though we know the harsh realities of slavery, this book had a good ending and we all love a story with a good ending. The main character Odessa is accused of murdering her master and her life is only prolonged because she is pregnant. After the baby is born is when she will be hanged to death. During her time of imprisonement, a white writer is intrigued with her story and wants to write a book about her. Dessa, along with other slave ...more
Dessa Rose tells the story of Dessa Rose, a young (teenaged) black slave who, after her lover is killed and she attacks her mistress, is beaten savagely and sold away. While being transported, she and several others revolt and escape, killing white men in the attempt. Dessa is captured after the attempt and only remains alive as long as she does because she is pregnant and it is decided that she should give birth before she is executed.

Part One of the book is about the period of time during whi
Adam Nehemiah is an asshole! A man "who had never owned a slave--nor wished to--" yet is compelled to take the slaves' words and twist them into all sorts of inaccuracies as he writes a self-promoting guide on how to raise slaves. This story isa plantation, above-the-sea equivalent of Ursula and Ariel. Williams creates a complex character whose victory we want to share in Dessa, and for that alone this novel is worth reading.
Victoria Law
I had no idea that, in 1829, a pregnant slave led an uprising on a coffle! I like the what-if alternate history in which she escapes her execution and meets the real-life white woman who, the following year, was reported as giving sanctuary to runaway slaves. I also loved the depiction of the two women's relationship. (Not saying anything more about that. Just read the book.)

This falls shy of five stars because some of the almost-ending was confusing.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shirley Hart
I read Dessa Rose about the same time as Morrison's Beloved. Between the two, my dreams were permeated with many vivid thoughts of my ancestors' survival.

Dessa: "You know I'm shamed to say I didn't know this where cold weather come from, the north. That I'd never seed no real meaning in birds going south til Harker poointed it out to me. This is what I hoild against slavery. May come a time when I forgive--cause I don't think I'm set up to forget--the beatings, the selling, the killings, but I
If you love Toni Morrison, you will appreciate this novel. Beautifully written. It is a simple story line: a slave girl, Dessa, is scheduled to be executed and has to undergo torturous conditions until that point, the execution is postponed and she ends up at the doorsteps of a white lady whose husbands is absent. Rufel is very whimisical but a strong character who can not refuse a runaway slave a home. As Dessa rests, Rufel nurses her baby. Dessa and Ruffel will form a relationship that will qu ...more
The premise was good, the characters are well defined, the slips into dialect are sometimes heavily handled.
creates black southern hero who discovers her own strength, gives voice to her own stories, and creates alternative, independent, black communities as havens in a hostile world. Williams is an African ‐ American southern woman writer who portrays black women from the inside, exploring the pain and vulnerability of their heros and examines the arduous path of self development for black heros. - Kissel's Moving On

Dessa in an inspirational character.
Aug 18, 2007 Leslee rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes good endings
A very complicated relationship: a white slave owning woman/her African American maidservant slave. I loved the way the author made these two women work to respect, then love each otheron as equal terms as could be had. In todays world, this is perhaps too simplistic a message; maybe too idealistic, and too pure, but one that still works for me.
Although a neo-slave narrative Dessa Rose: A Novel has some realistic tinges to it. The author was cognizant of the societal norms during the time of slavery as well as the societal norms during the time in which she wrote the piece. It was a telling story of some of the anomalies associated with slavery. I enjoyed reading it!
Klay Kubiak
Runs into the same problem that so many writers of Af Am Lit do: the white person saves the day for the black person. But there are more important things going on here. Some absolutely brutal scenes and great southern characters. Sadly, the ending ruins is for me; could have been 4 or 5 stars with a better one.
White woman fallen on bad times befriends a number of escaped slaves and joins them in a dangerous scheme to make money. The long road away from hate and distrust on the part of Dessa Rose toward white woman Rufel was good. Although sad and triumphant tales were told, it just wasn't that interesting.
Corny, but left me in near-tears from two different sections. Unusual perspective and reaction to the white woman on behalf of the slave rebels. I would write more, but I'm trying to get through to as many reviews as possible today. I will elaborate later.
Loretta Lynn
Written in slave narrative style, the book was broken into 3 sections. Each section reflected a phase which Dessa Rose was going through. The author did a great job at the in-depth depiction of the major characters. Really engaging book.
A college prof had me read this for my grad degree. I never even knew about it until then. It's considered a strong, modern day classic. I liked it; I am not raving about it. It's cool that it's based on real events.
it had been quite a while since I'd read a book with a 'slave dialect' so it was slow going at first. But once I read more - it got easier. Good book - even if a little unbelievable.
Another of those school books that I read that I only barely remember. I was not really impressed by the writing style of this book at all. I remember finding it overly flowery.
This is a story framed within another story of two women - one whose a black slave, the other a white slave owner - who have to overcome fear and prejudice.
A very good book from start to finish; the characters are very realistic; however, the last part of the book is truly engrossing!
Reading for a Humanities class - review to come when I'm done and can actually focus my attention on a legitimate review.
An entertaining but somewhat predictable story about the friendship of a black woman and a white woman living in the South.
Read this for a college course and liked it. It's an interesting technique of a story within a story.
The first slave narrative we read for class that I actually preferred the po' buckra over the slave. :(
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