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Dessa Rose

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  559 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
“Having this treasure of a book available again for new and more readers is not only necessary, it is imperative.” —Toni Morrison

Expanding the canon of African American literature, alongside Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Sherley Anne Williams’ critically acclaimed and unforgettable Dessa Ros
Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 20th 1999 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1986)
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Jul 06, 2010 Niki rated it really liked it
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
Jun 27, 2008 courtney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 26, 2012 Kidada rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary-loves
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.
Feb 01, 2008 Scherrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Periodic African American novels are my cheese cake...yum
Bernice Watson
Jun 24, 2016 Bernice Watson rated it did not like it
Didn't finish it. I was t feeling it. Will probably try reading it again at a later date.
Harriett Milnes
This novel was written in 1986 based on two historical incidents.
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
Quiniece Sheppard
Oct 29, 2012 Quiniece Sheppard rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 05, 2013 Jena rated it liked it
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
Sep 16, 2016 Angie rated it really liked it
Major Field Prep: 102/133
This novel is a speculative reconstruction of two historical accounts of insurrection and rebellion in the antebellum South. Upon first reading of the stories - one of a pregnant enslaved woman who led a coffle of slaves in revolt, killing several white folks, and having her execution staved until she gave birth, and one of a lone white women who allowed runaway slaves sanctuary on her farm - Williams wondered what may have happened had these two women met. This novel is
Tessa Pitre
Apr 29, 2011 Tessa Pitre rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 09, 2015 Aki rated it really liked it
The author made an interesting approach - the story is about runaway slaves and a white woman helping them. I enjoyed reading the interaction of the sufferings of the white woman and the runaways, how their relation changes in the second half of the book, and the development of their comradeship through the escape to the West.

Though it may sound the slaves were lucky to have met this white woman, I think it was actually her who has been saved. The strong tie and hopefulness among the runaways ma
Sep 16, 2010 Alison rated it really liked it
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Aug 26, 2011 gaudeo rated it liked it
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Sep 04, 2008 Pamela rated it really liked it
This is a 4.5. Just re-read for a second time -- wonderful book! Historical fiction based on two real-life women: a slave-woman condemned to die for leading a slave revolt on a coffle, and a white woman living alone on an isolated small farm -- abandoned by her husband -- who shelters runaway slaves in exchange for their help on her farm. The author conjures the story: what if these two women had met?? Takes place in 1830's South.

Very complex powerful story, beautifully written. The language re
Jan 12, 2011 Resa rated it really liked it
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
Shirley Hart
Aug 13, 2012 Shirley Hart rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 07, 2015 Nicole rated it it was amazing
I came here already really loving the musical, which is a perfect, solid adaptation of this book. Lynn Ahrens adapts this book so tenderly, with an eye for every single bit of the language here, and knowing the lyrics to the show, coming to this book is like visiting an old friend. That said, the language here is so perfectly wrought. Sherley Anne Williams weaves it into an easily-understood, authentic feel that slips between past and present with ease. All of the main characters are fully-forme ...more
Jan 30, 2009 Ruth rated it really liked it
Shelves: southern
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.
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.
Joanie Sompayrac
Jan 20, 2016 Joanie Sompayrac rated it really liked it
This historical novel is one that is classified as a neo-slave narrative. In it, author Sherley Anne Williams writes in the voice of slave, Dessa Rose. Williams does not write in a traditional manner, which sometimes made following the story challenging for me. Nevertheless, the scenes were often compelling, and the characters were captivating. While there were more plot twists than I thought were necessary, it is clear that Williams was a gifted author.
Benjamin Gallagher
Love this book. It challenges the reader to both hear and visualize the words. I think that's because the author comes from a poetic background. It took some perseverance to get to the end. I love this book because of how the author put together the idea for this book. She took historical stories and merge them together. I think that in turn is what makes this an American Novel. An African American novel yes because of the time period. But an American novel because of the overall story.
Mar 07, 2014 sheena rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-chicago
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.
Oct 08, 2015 Suzanne rated it liked it
Although the story was good, I kept losing the thread of it thru change of narrator, often for no discernable reason. A young pregnant slave girl leads an insurrection that results in her death penalty, and I would have liked to know more of her feelings. The author seemed to protect her privacy, but sometimes we need to intrude if we are to understand.
Aug 18, 2007 Leslee rated it it was amazing
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.
Tianna Mignogna
The plot of this was intriguing, but the way the book was set up confused pretty much my entire class who was assigned to read this. It shifts view points, especially at the beginning, and randomly takes on first person, third person, and other different points of view without really giving a heads up. It just wasn't very cohesive or linear. But the ending was still worth it.
Klay Kubiak
Jan 26, 2012 Klay Kubiak rated it liked it
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.
Feb 26, 2011 Brittaney rated it really liked it
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!
Sep 04, 2013 Julie rated it liked it
Shelves: historical
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.
Sep 07, 2015 Petuli rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015, owned
This was a required reading for my African-American literature class. I usually don't enjoy reading books that our teachers want us to read but this one was really good. I really appreciated Dessa's story - it was a story of love mixed with the horrors of slavery. This book made me feel a lot of things and when a book does that you can be sure it is a good one.
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Sherley Anne Williams (August 25, 1944 – July 6, 1999) was an African-American poet, novelist, professor, and social critic. Many of her works tell stories about her life in the African-American community.

Williams was born in Bakersfield, California. When she was little her family picked cotton in order to get money. At the age of eight her father died of tuberculosis and when she was sixteen her
More about Sherley Anne Williams...

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