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Song Yet Sung

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  3,213 Ratings  ·  638 Reviews
In the days before the Civil War, a runaway slave named Liz Spocott breaks free from her captors and escapes into the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland's eastern shore, setting loose a drama of violence and hope among slave catchers, plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves, and free blacks. Liz is near death, wracked by disturbing visions of the future, and armed with "t ...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published February 1st 2008 by Riverhead Books (first published June 30th 2001)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 04, 2008 tamia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll be honest, after Barack Obama won the election on 11/4/08 the LAST thing I wanted to do was read a book about the antebellum South. But alas, Song Yet Sung was the next reading in my African American women's bookclub. However I am so incredibly happy I read this book. The story is nothing short of captivating. It is extremely thought provoking.

Author James McBride does an amazing job of illustrating the complexities of slavery. By the end of the book I couldn't hate the slave owners or the
Jul 27, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michael by: Booknblues
I was very satisfied with the emotional and mental ride of this tale about a runaway woman slave in eastern Maryland. It features a nice ensemble of interesting characters with intersecting agendas and dreams, and it highlights the strange social circumstances in a slave state bordering non-slave states and the creative efforts of people who supported the “Underground Railroad” for runaways to reach safety in the northern states or Canada. The first two lines reveal a critical magical realism el ...more
April Cote
The beginning of the story was promising. A chase begins and you start to hope people escape. The chase goes on, and on, and on....and I hate to say it but I was bored. The ending was anticlimactic for me. I really had to push myself to finish this one.
Book Concierge
May 27, 2016 Book Concierge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of literary fiction; people interested in the Underground Railroad or Civil War literature
Recommended to Book Concierge by: Author event
5***** and a

McBride is best known for his memoir The Color of Water . Here he turns his talents to an historical novel based on the true story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad that brought so many slaves to freedom in the North.

Liz Spocott, a house slave and mistress to her master, is struck on the head and afterwards can see the future in her dreams. The book opens with Liz in captivity in the attic of a tavern, run by the notorious Patty Cannon and her band of slave stealers (
Nancy Oakes
Feb 24, 2009 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
Set on the east coast of Maryland, in the mid 1800s, Song Yet Sung's main character is Liz Spocott a runaway slave, running away from the attentions of her sexually abusive master. When we first meet her, she's been shot, and ends up chained in an attic of a tavern belonging to Miss Patty Cannon, a notorious slave stealer who also picks up runaways and sells them to slaveowners in the south. (as an aside, Miss Patty was a real person.) Liz comes to be known as "the dreamer," because she has prop ...more
Mar 16, 2008 Afia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was absorbed in this book from start to finish. The storyline is superb and the characters are complex. It weaves gender, race, class, and geography to create a very real and moving portrait of what is must have been like to live during this time in eastern Maryland. McBride does an excellent job in the "gray" areas of the last 13 years of slavery. You really see how the institution dehumanized everyone, even the so called "civilized" people.

The book does an excellent job in dealing with ques
Liz Spocott is a runaway slave in 1850 Maryland. She is shot in the head and captured by slave traders, when she manages to escape, setting free the other captures slaves at the same time. In McBride's novel, we are brought into the heart of slavery, and see it in total truth. We see that blacks could be loyal to their masters and not want to leave, and white owners who didn't always feel as if their slaves were merely property. McBride isn't saying that slavery wasn't bad, but that it's effect ...more
Naomi Shank
Jan 03, 2016 Naomi Shank rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this audio CD while commuting to and from work and I was captivated at every sitting. The richness of the characters with their strengths, flaws, pride and foibles, the brutality and terror that was predominant during that period, the mysterious, spiritual and clairvoyant aspects of the slaves' inner world all engaged me deeply in this superbly written novel about the hunt for a beautiful escaped female slave on Maryland's eastern shore a decade before the Civil War and how she is ...more
I thought this book was absolutely ingenious. It's easy to read and yet it's content is complex. It captured my attention at the very beginning and demanded its own quiet time. It's not the typical slave story, which is one thing that grabbed me and held me. Liz is "the Dreamer", who has a hand in helping free the slaves, no one knows how she fits into the scheme of things, they just know she's a part of the process. She is told the Code the slaves use to make their way to freedom by an elderly ...more
Mar 17, 2008 Renee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After the 1oth or so page, i flipped to the back of the book to see how long it was and said "thank god, another 340 pages....". Yes, it is that good. This book is filled with rich history and much of the story is drawn from historical events (The story of Harriett Tubman).Song Yet Sung brings into full view a world long misunderstood in American fiction: how slavery worked, and the haunting, moral choices that lived beneath the surface, pressing both whites and blacks to search for relief in a ...more
Song Yet Sung

Book Summary:

In the days before the Civil War, a runaway slave named Liz Spocott breaks free from her captors and escapes into the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland’s eastern shore, setting loose a drama of violence and hope among slave catchers, plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves, and free blacks. Liz is near death, wracked by disturbing visions of the future, and armed with “the Code,” a fiercely guarded cryptic means of communication for slaves on the run. Liz’s flight and
Johnny D
Mr. McBride, I assume that you regularly check out to see what the readership is saying about your work. I'm sure every criticism lobbed against your books stings you to your very core.

No doubt as you are trying to drift off to sleep you do so only after darkly pondering, "what did Barbara from Dallas mean when she said that I used chocolate as an adjective too many times. And, man, should I really listen to Trevor S. and censor my use of the n-word?"

I'm also certain that you love
Oct 22, 2008 Jana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jana by: Dana
This was a hard one to rate. I would have given it a five if not for the violence and language. But it's hard because that graphic detail was a big part of what made the book what it is. I was really intrigued by so much of this book--the "code" the author comes up with as part of the Underground Railroad. I appreciated that it didn't divide by race who was good and who was bad. My favorite lines of the book:
---But I don't know who I am.
---Well, there it is, he said ruefully. That's a problem, a
Aug 29, 2013 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Utterly compelling and gripping. Beauty. Ugly. Truth.

Highly recommend!

Will return with comments and or review.
Jan 09, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2010
I picked this one up at a local used bookstore awhile ago and tried to read it but just couldn't get into it. Then, I saw a few goodreads friends had read it and enjoyed it so I decided to give it another chance. And, I'm soooo glad that I did. I think I just wasn't in the right place to read it earlier.

But, this read was wonderful! I really enjoyed the book - the writing alone is outstanding. I was amazed at the luscious writing ... the descriptions of time and place were just amazingly well w
Bookmarks Magazine

After a moving tribute to his Jewish mother (The Color of Water, 1996) and a novel about African American soldiers in World War II (Miracle at St. Anna, 2003), jazz musician and composer James McBride reaches even further into the past to explore the complexities and unpredictability of human nature against the backdrop of slavery. Based on actual historical figures, including Harriet Tubman, McBride's novel starts slowly but soon develops into a suspenseful, action-packed adventure. Some critic

Feb 15, 2009 Sherese rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Blah -- I was bored and this type of narrative is usually right up my alley. I saw a review in Essence about a month or two ago, so I added it to my book list. I figured I'd give James McBridge another shot because I wasn't a huge fan of " The Color of Water".

I'd normally devour a book of this nature but it took me about a week of carrying around the book in my purse and finally I forced myself to sit down today and read it because I just wanted to get it done to move on the my next book.

Aug 18, 2016 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While a more straightfaced book than the rollicking The Good Lord Bird, Song Yet Sung is no less nimble and a piece of a similar project: in both books, McBride consciously wades in among the links of American Mythology and tugs those chains hard. He may destabilize those myths, but he doesn't break them. And he's not trying to. The movements he makes with the stories he tells, it's all to get a better idea of the shape and strength of these myths. Here, he focuses in on the collectivity of the ...more
Kathy Stilwell
Aug 28, 2013 Kathy Stilwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: listened-to
First of all, I have to get used to saying I "listened to" a book rather than "read" it. What a coincidence that I finished it the night before the anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream speech." If you read the book, you may understand why it gave me goose bumps.

This is not my typical preference in books but I was drawn into the story and immersed in the representation of a place and time I knew nothing about prior to this encounter. My sen
Regina Lindsey
Song Yet Sung opens with the capture of a wounded runaway slave named Liz. Patty Cannon, a historical figure, allows Liz to be nurtured back to health but locks Liz away with other slaves intended for sell. As Liz regains her strength the other captives learn of her ability to dream of a future for African - Americans that includes everything from the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement to the prevalence of gang culture today. In exchange Liz is introduced to "The Code" used for communication by ...more
Song Yet Sung by James McBride has everything I love in a book, a wonderful and exciting story, great characters, compassion and understanding and excellent writing. Once I opened the book up and began the first paragraph, I couldn’t put it down.

Liz Spocott is a two headed, one who sees visions and dreams, slave of 1850 Maryland, who is attempting to escape to the North. She is shot in the head and captured by some illegal slave traders who capture freemen or steal slaves and sell them in the de
Charles Matthews
This a novel in which people say things like:

“-- With all I seen, I don’t know that I believe in God anymore….

“-- Don’t matter…. He believes in you.”


“-- Every truth is a lie. I heard that said. Only tomorrow is truthful.”

But Song Yet Sung rises above its author’s sometimes clumsy attempts at profundity, because James McBride knows how to tell a story. His earlier novel, Miracle at St. Anna, is being filmed by Spike Lee, and his memoir, The Color of Water, about growing up in an interracial f
Khanh Ha
Mar 19, 2014 Khanh Ha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Song Yet Sung" is more intense, more tautly structured than McBride's National Book Award winning title "The Good Lord Bird." This is one book that keeps you sit upright and take the narrative to heart. McBride is stellar in creating his characters. His skill rivals that of Ernest Gaines. Memorable characters are Denwood, the slave hunter, Patty, the woman slave owner, and they live on after you have put the book away.
I picked this book up in a neat little bookstore in Easton, MD on Maryland's Eastern Shore. During a trip to this region we visited several sites associated with Harriet Tubman and her underground railroad. James McBride says in the author's notes that on a trip to this region and visit to Tubman's birthplace (which I also saw) this novel was born. The main character, Liz, has many of the personal traits of Tubman and like her was a runaway slave. This story raises the question as to who is real ...more
Jun 11, 2008 Abby rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was very excited to be able to get this book and read it. I loved "The Color of Water" so much that I would read anything James McBride wrote. However, I was a bit disappointed with this book. Granted, it was an extremely difficult subject to read about, I just felt like I never really connected with the characters. I didn't feel like I couldn't put it down. The truth is, when I did put it down, I had to make myself pick it back up. I did find certain things about the book intriguing, like "th ...more
My interest in the Black experience keeps me looking for the best of the best and I feel that this particular book lacked in many areas. I was hoping for more depth rather than cut out cardboard characters. The constant movement between many characters was alright but the writing didn't make it interesting enough or smooth.
Dosha (Bluestocking7) Beard
It sure starts out with a bang and closes with many bangs. Excellent thought provoking book. This book is an important work of Black Literature. It was hard to put down at times and then it was hard to pick back up at times. I highly recommend this one.
Apr 19, 2009 Babydoll rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was truly a prolific novel! I was intrigued by the riveting story from the beginning to the very end. His characters were profound and some actually resembled notable leaders within the African American community. It was well written with incredible symbolic expressions that captured the intellect concerning the development of the story. Author James McBride is an incredible writer who was able to take the somber story of slavery and transform it into a story of hope. I truly felt grateful ...more
May 22, 2016 Anita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book compelling reading, in spite of the fact that the vernacular was difficult to follow in some sections. The landscape of creeks, swamps and waterways was evocatively described, as was the life of the slave traders and the coloured slaves. Just as the surroundings were a bewildering complex of state borders, and tangled alien vegetation, to those not born in the district, so too were the tangled relationships between the landowners, slave traders, abolitionists and slaves. The fr ...more
Oct 24, 2008 Deidre rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Deidre by: Jeanette
Shelves: vacation-reads
like Uncle Tom's Cabin and very engaging, expanding my understanding of the complexity of running for freedom and all the forces that combined to perpetuate the 'rights' of slave owners .. it has made me think of what our Sunday School teacher said of the Book of Mormon having a large portion dedicated to wars but that all wars are a continuation of the same war we fought in heaven - the fight is always for our freedom to choose. didn't love the ending though
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What?! X shoots Y! (Ending spoiler) 1 2 Feb 23, 2016 10:12PM  
Staggeringly good 3 54 Nov 17, 2013 04:41PM  
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James McBride is a native New Yorker and a graduate of New York City public schools. He studied composition at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and received his Masters in Journalism from Columbia University in New York at age 22. He holds several honorary doctorates and is currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University. He is married with three children. He lives in ...more
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“There ain't no time for foolishness now. You in it now. You got to stay in it.” 6 likes
“God I am looking for the one thing I have never felt but once, and I would walk through heaven and earth to find it, if he would but let me find him, so that I could feel it; and if I were to feel it again I would never leave that feeling, or him that gave it to me." - The Dreamer” 4 likes
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