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Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth
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Aug 04, 11

bookshelves: memoir, history, female-authors, non-fiction, sf11, own, ebook
Read from August 01 to 04, 2011

Sojourner Truth had to be one of the most charismatic people ever to walk the Earth.* Charisma is hard to convey in any mode that's not face-to-face. This book might be as close to capturing raw charisma as I have ever seen. She stands out even in an era of incredibly charismatic people.

My edition had both The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, and the Book of Life. The latter was Sojourner's scrapbook and autograph book she carried around as she traveled preaching and telling her story.

My reaction to her Narrative is that it is an absolute 5-star read. Holy guacamole, what this woman endured! Multiple things surprised me. First, it's not told in Sojourner Truth's voice. She remained unable to read or write her whole life, and relied on a friend to retell her story. That woman was Olive Gilbert. Gilbert injects quite a bit of her own commentary on both Truth and the abolitionist movement. This makes it quite difficult to ascertain what were Truth's own words, and what were manipulated by Gilbert. Second, Truth grew up in a Low Dutch farm in New York, and didn't learn to speak English until she was 10. She never had a formal education, and didn't even hear a preacher until she claimed her own emancipation in 1826.^ Despite all this, she wandered the eastern seaboard (and later beyond) preaching about God, Jesus and plight of enslaved peoples by relating her own story. Third, her story doesn't dwell on the physical hardships and punishments she endured while a slave. In fact, she only hints at most of them. Yet the slave part of her story is horrific.

On to the Book of Life - I would give it 3-stars for putting Truth's Narrative into context and continuing her story to the end of her life. This is mostly newspaper clippings telling about how Sojourner Truth came to speak at this church, or that meeting, and how she had everyone in rapture with her stories and songs. Those parts get extremely repetitious, but it's amazing to see how many places she traveled and how she was warmly welcomed. Perhaps even more amazing is the number (not all) that describe her in non-racial tones. They almost all mention her race, but only a few tack on "...for her race" when they mention that she is forceful, commanding, impressive, etc.. Considering the times, she transcended many racial lines. Truth's Book of Life also contains letters and signatures from famous people - including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S Grant, Frederick Douglass and Susan B Anthony.

Perhaps most fascinating between the two - her Narrative and The Book of Life - is the discrepancies in her personal story. The story of her life partially evolved as she traveled around retelling the narrative. Most likely, though, is that it was variations in the retelling. The big stand-out is Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1863 article in the Atlantic Monthly, titled: "Libyan Sibyl". This article not only propelled Truth into nation-wide fame, but gave her a nickname that she she grew tired of. Stowe takes many liberties in the article, including quoting Truth in a Southern US slave dialect that Truth never had. (She had a slightly Dutch accent, and often described as a "peculiar" way of speech.) What's worse, Stowe claimed Truth was dead, when in fact she went on to live another 20 years. Perhaps all those changes developed the persona of Sojourner Truth and aided in her popularity? According to the editor of my edition, Truth herself might have been guilty of perpetuating un-truths, in order to present a persuasive argument and be the larger-than-life character of Sojourner Truth.

One of the funniest, most witty anecdotes about Truth goes something like this: Truth was speaking in front of a large meeting that contained friends and foes alike. There were grumblings in the audience that she wasn't who she claimed to be -- that in fact, she was a man. Truth was six feet tall, very muscular, wore her short hair under a Quaker cap, and was by all accounts an imposing presence with a booming voice. When she heard the accusations, she said (paraphrasing the paraphrasing): "You think I'm a man? Let me tell you something. I suckled many white babes at my breasts, often to the neglect of my own children. And those white children turned into finer men than you could ever be!" She then proceeded to whip our her bare breast and said: "Suck this!"

Sojourner Truth was awesome.

*(If there are humans hanging out somewhere else in the Universe, they are just boring sacks of carbon. Thanks a lot for not contacting us. Losers.)

^(Seriously, her emancipation is a story you need to read for yourself. It shows the kind of woman she was at heart.)
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie I am going to start saying holy guacamole now.


Cindy Okay, but I'll probably get hungry every time you do.


message 3: by Ij (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ij Holy guacamole, great review!


Cindy Salsa right. Thanks, Ij! :)


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