I was looking forward to reading this book when I first heard that Laila Lalami would write a fictionalized account of Estebanico as I knew she wouldI was looking forward to reading this book when I first heard that Laila Lalami would write a fictionalized account of Estebanico as I knew she would provide the necessary insight on Morocco and a Moroccan point-of-view of the 1500s. This book exceeded my expectations. There are many accounts of the Narvaez expedition and what happened in the years 1527 – 1536, when the four survivors (out of 600) were reunited with other Spaniards. Among the survivors was a Moroccan slave known in the accounts by his enslaved name Esteban or Estebanico. At last is a compelling historical fiction account giving a voice to the first known black explorer of the New World. I enjoyed how Lalami through her graceful language and journal-like format places the reader in the narrator’s hands, giving him an identity other than a slave – Mustafa al-Zamori. The beginning alternates with chapters of all the pomp and arrogance of the Spaniards decisions and Mustafa telling his life before he was a slave allowing us to see the complex layered reality of his situation. Wonderful storytelling and a fresh robust take of an arduous adventure makes this a book to be read by all interested in early American history and conquest. As the saying goes – the only new history is history yet to be discovered and I graciously thank the author for her time and research for a thoughtful informative book. ...more
This is a marvelous research study that informs about a very important missing piece of American history, slave resistance, and self-determination. ThThis is a marvelous research study that informs about a very important missing piece of American history, slave resistance, and self-determination. This book does not leave any stone unturned as I was informed about the development of marronage in the South, borderland maroons, hinterland maroons, their everyday lives and much more. I appreciated how Diouf explored American marronage on the communal and individual levels. This helped to understand how marronage fit into the American landscape and social/economic/political conditions of the times. The stories of the individuals showcased the theory but most importantly illustrated the skills, intelligence and self-motivation to define themselves by their own terms and not to live under the control of others. One of the most fascinating aspects of learning about the everyday lives of maroons for me was about their dwelling structures – the caves and underground structures so close to those who were hunting them yet invisible. Lastly, I was also provided answers as to why this is not a topic as known as “runaways” – little sensationalism in the maroons’ daily lives, their autonomous survival without white involvement had little mass appeal, and southerners really did not want this known outside of their region because of their difficulty in capturing and eliminating maroons. A must read for anyone who is interested in American history, slavery, and resistance to being enslaved. I look forward to this book winning many awards. ...more
The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen brilliantly brings attention to an unknown but captivating true story of a courageous black woman who riskedThe Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen brilliantly brings attention to an unknown but captivating true story of a courageous black woman who risked her life and freedom working as a spy in the Jefferson Davis household. Mary and her mother, Minerva, are household slaves in the wealthy household of Old Master Van Lew. Mary’s father, also a slave, is a skilled blacksmith who lives for the weekly Sunday visit from his daughter and “wife.” While the family dreams of freedom, in the meantime, they struggle to maintain their dignity and skillfully negotiate for Mary to learn to read and do her numbers. But when Mary is 12 years-old the unexpected happens – that is both a blessing and tragic to the family. Mary and Minerva are given their freedom, and according to Virginia law as freed blacks they have to leave the state of Virginia. Now it is not slavery that will separate the family, but freedom. After much consideration and the willing help of Bet, head-strong abolitionist daughter of Old Master, Minerva will remain in Richmond and her freedom papers will not be filed. Mary will go to Philadelphia to get her education. Mary adjusts to life in Philadelphia and matures into a race-conscious woman. Mary defies the law, returns to Richmond to care for her ailing father and continue her emancipation work.
This is a masterfully, well-researched book that deftly explores the real and the imagined of familiar historical events acutely reminding us of the ordinary, often visible people who survive and grow despite the odds against them. In Mary, we have the authentic innocence of a narrator speaking in a calm and confident manner experiencing first-hand the privileges and harsh realities of freedom in the North – race, class, gender and religious discrimination, and the emotional cost of freedom. This book takes the refreshing perspective at looking at urban slavery – the co-existing of both enslaved (house slaves and skilled slaves) and free blacks in Richmond. While at times the pacing dragged or it felt like reading a research paper, the book never steers from showing how blacks (enslaved and freed) went about their everyday lives with much dignity and fought slavery in both little and big ways.
I applaud Leveen for writing this untold story that has been erased from our collective memory. As the saying goes – the only thing new is the history yet to learn. I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction and stories of extraordinary women.
This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
As a reader of historical fiction I enjoyed this story. The story is narrated from the pov of Kau, an African Pygmy, who was enslaved for 5 years beforAs a reader of historical fiction I enjoyed this story. The story is narrated from the pov of Kau, an African Pygmy, who was enslaved for 5 years before he has a chance to escape. The book starts in Africa before Kau was captured so you understand who he is based on his life experiences and his culture. I thought that the book did a good job of capturing the essence of Kau and the his way of life and that his journey was about him finding a place in America where he could re-capture of bit of his old way of living. The pays attention and describes in detail the land/location/place so you feel like you are there in the times after the War of 1812 in the south as Americans, British, Spanish and Native Americans try to mold thhis area to their way of thinking....more
All the reviews I read basically said the same thing: - it is not a perfect book - but definitely glad they read the book - not an easy book to get throAll the reviews I read basically said the same thing: - it is not a perfect book - but definitely glad they read the book - not an easy book to get through - an interesting approach to looking at black history - it was a lyrical novel
The book did pick up once I got through the first time period - it did start to flow better for me. There were parts were I was fully engaged and others that I thought dragged on. There was a character or two that I really enjoyed reading about - but many were just flat to me. The actual historical events were well woven into the story and helped to show how "ordinary" survived through these events and managed day to day.
So by the time I finished - like the other reviewers mentioned I was glad that I had stuck with the story. It also made me realize how much music is integrated into my family history and how music and dance has been with me since a baby and this a way of passing down our culture.
I thought that the stories between the mothers and the daughters was well done - and how each internalized and reacted to the effects of slavery and racism. Each of the women had something to cry about - but sort to figure how best to have something to sing about.
But the story really came to together for me when really a quote from one of the authors - Ifa Bayeza - "In most sub-Saharan African languages, soun dis paramount. Spelling is not important. The sound holds the truth. When in doubt, read aloud. It is a story meant to be spoken and sung as well as read."
I agree that this story would have been enjoyable if I had "listened" to the story instead of reading it - so would recommend this as an audio book. ...more