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A Million Nightingales

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3.87  ·  Rating details ·  479 Ratings  ·  84 Reviews
From National Book Award finalist Susan Straight comes a haunting historical novel about a Louisiana slave girl's perilous journey to freedom.Daughter of an African mother and a white father she never knew, Moinette is a house maid on a plantation south of New Orleans. At fourteen she is sold, separated from her mother without a chance to say goodbye. Bright, imaginative a ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published May 8th 2007 by Anchor (first published 2006)
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Teresa
Apr 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
An interior novel that would work very well as an audio book. Perhaps I think that because I heard the author read a short passage from it and her rendering was very moving. (At times I could still 'hear' the author's voice while I was reading.) Maybe I think it because some of the connections the narrator makes in her somewhat stream-of-consciousness telling might not sound as repetitive in an audio as they sometimes look to be on the page. But that is a minor issue.

Moinette's story (loosely b
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Sarah
Feb 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
Susan Straight's A Million Nightingales is the story of Moinette, a young teen with a white father and an African mother who is sold at the age of 14 to another slave-owner. The novel takes place during the Antebellum era of the old South.

I'm ashamed to say that I discarded this novel about mid-way through - I just didn't find it captivating or original, especially when compared to other novels on similar subject matters by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Although there are many possible plots f
...more
Karen
Dec 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
I tore through this book faster than any novel in a long time. It's a glimpse into the complexity of slavery in the US.

I found myself thinking about the characters and the prose even when I wasn't reading. I love Susan Straight's writing style, character development, and subtlety.
Cheryl Klein
Jul 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
In this book even more than ever, Susan Straight creates a palette of physical details (hair, bone, ink, bodily fluids) that in turn create a world. In this case, it's French Louisiana in the early 1800s, where a young biracial slave uses her considerable wits to rise from powerlessness to relative freedom. I loved how she was something of a scientist in a time when science barely existed, always wondering about the natural world. The novel reminded me a bit of Toni Morrison's A Mercy in terms o ...more
Susan
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, historical
This book just about broke my heart. To live a life so fettered - emotionally, physically, intellectually - must be intolerable, but to add the loss of anyone and anything meaningful in your life has to be unbearable. Yet Moinette, our heroine in the truest sense of the word, continues on in spite of all her heartbreak.
The writing is lush and beautiful, which makes the subject matter even harder to bear, as Straight captures the rhythm and cadences of early 19th century Louisianna.
Meg
Jan 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Straight up, this book does it in ways that only Toni Morrison has ever touched on slavery (and more importantly the slavery of being female on a planet filled with hate for women). The language is wonderful. I'm going to read all her other books now...
Judy
Jan 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone


In A Million Nightingales, her fifth novel, Susan Straight achieves parity with the writing that made Toni Morrison one of my top three most admired novelists: a perfect amalgam of intelligence, empathy and artistry.

This novel is a slave story, and like the Civil War, World War II, the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, it takes hundreds, maybe thousands of stories to encompass these huge, life altering events. Fiction, biography, memoir, as well as history books are all required to bring the
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Hans
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read this book for both good and ridiculous reasons, but I am really glad that I did.

Ridiculous: I recently read the third book in the trilogy Between Heaven and Here. I'm a completist, so I don't read books out of order and I read all of them.

Good: I really enjoyed Between Heaven and Here and wanted to find out the stories that occur before and after. (The third book chronologically falls between the first and second books.)

Ridiculous/Good: I discovered the GoodReads "most read" authors list
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Rachel Swords
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
I first heard of this book while attending a master class by the author in New Orleans. She read an excerpt, and her gentle reading voice along with the poetry of the words convinced me to give the story a try. "A Million Nightingales" is a haunting, tragic book that tells the story of Moinette, a slave who is sold to several different masters before obtaining her freedom. Along the way, she meets many people and faces several hardships that would understandably weaken anyone, yet Moinette is ab ...more
Lori
Jul 26, 2013 rated it liked it
I labored through this but kept going. I found the writing style disjointed and had a hard time keeping track of characters. I just wanted more story with this. More background and personality of characters and less description of blood this and blood that, I got tired of the main character Moinette's constantly referring to people as animal, flesh, skin, bone.....I think a little of that goes a long way and we get the point. I would like to try another of her books because I would like to see h ...more
K
Mar 22, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K by: TABBIEs book club
Reasons I'm quitting this book about halfway through:

1. Exceedingly slow plot
2. Annoying stream-of-consciousness writing, often disjointed and ESL-like (yes, I get that the main character's English may not have been that great but surely her thoughts were coherent)
3. Uninteresting main character

For those who want to know, this book is about a teenage female slave, Moinette, who is sold away from her beloved mother. I just wasn't in the mood to read the rest of the tragic stuff that happens to he
...more
Walt
Dec 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
If you are looking for a book for relaxation to read, this is not it. Read a sample first, which is what I should have done. I pride myself on my reading comprehension skills, however, I found the dialogue, the one word sentences, the repetition of coffee beans, boutons, hair, finger eating, etc., so boring that I quit this book when I reached the half way mark. There have been just two books I had to ever quit, Beloved, and now A Million Nightengales, and I have read hundreds of books in my lif ...more
Sundry
Sep 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I very much enjoyed this book. I like Susan Straight’s work, and I think this is my favorite since _I Been In Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All The Pots,” though I think I’ve missed one somewhere in between.

An amazing story of a slave woman. Of women. Of intelligent women in the first half of the 19th century in the South.

I can’t really say much more about it right now, except that as hard as some of the events of the story were, I am going to miss going to Louisiana every day in my mental lif
...more
Caroline Hayes
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very sad, but that's to be expected given the sadness of that time and the circumstances. Slavery is such a horrible state of being. It's the ultimate proof of humanity's failure to achieve a higher state of being, and reduces them to less than the beings they enslave. The master was always less, and more of a primitive, filthy animal than his slave. That applies to their whole families... generations of them!
Ardene
Jan 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2011
Set in Louisianna in first half of the nineteenth century, this is the story of Moinette, a slave mulatresse (half-white, half-black) and her search for freedom and love. Moinette is the daughter of a slave laundress who can remember crossing the ocean with her mother in a slave ship.

Moinette's mother tells her Moinette belongs to her, but in fact Moinette is sold and sent away around age 14 without a chance to say good-bye to her mother after the daughter of her owner dies (Moinette had served
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Julia
Dec 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As the story begins, Moinette is a 14-year-old slave on a Louisiana plantation. She is "yellow" (i.e., of mixed race), and has always lived with only her mother in le quartier (slave quarters), but is one day moved into the main house to be the personal handmaiden and hairdresser to the owner's teenage daughter, Céphaline. When Céphaline succumbs to disease, Moinette is only a reminder to her parents of their loss, and without warning Moinette is uprooted from the only life she has known.

Many ni
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Amanda
Moinette is born south of New Orleans to a slave mother as a mulatresse–she is half white and half black. Since her mother’s slave labor consists largely of laundry and also due to her looks, Moinette spends her life serving predominantly within the white homes instead of the fields, which is a dangerous location. She also spends her life striving to be free and to save her family.

Straight manages to depict the aching despair and struggles of those enslaved while simultaneously not demonizing an
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Gabby
May 05, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall I enjoyed this book -- not bad for a blink pick off a Half Price Books clearance rack ($3 for a hardback!).

I thought that the store itself was interesting enough. Mulatto slave girl that gets sold several times, abused, and neglected, and now quite fitting in anywhere. These stories are usually filled with tragedy, sometimes with triumph. However, what fell apart a little for me was the narrator's point of view (1st person) and the stream-of-consciousness storytelling style that was only
...more
Karen
Aug 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Early 1800's: Moinette (black slave mother, unknown white father)lives on a plantation south of New Orleans in a small hut with her mother, the washer woman. Her mother is her best friend and Moinette is her mother's universe, but Moinette is about to turn fourteen -- the year a slave girl comes of age for breeding. She, however, is sent to the big house to be the personal slave of the daughter of the plantation. Cephaline is obsessed with reading and writing and is not Scarlett O'Hara, by any m ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Straight, whose sixth novel explores family bonds, slavery, and freedom in a dark period of American history, elicited almost universal praise. Moinette, an intelligent, moving narrative presence who navigates through__even exploits__slavery's constraints, charmed critics. Straight's evocative language also impressed them, as did the depth of her historical research__from boot blacking to gory scenes of murdered runaway slaves. (A glossary of Creole and French terms helps.) Only the Los Angeles

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Stephanie
Mar 06, 2011 rated it liked it
This book took me a while to read. At first, I had some trouble keeping track of who was who. I was unable to connect a name with a person because there was not a lot of direct or indirect characterization to help me distinguish the characters, and some of the names were very similar.

A Million Nightingales captures the evils of slavery in an honest and terrifying way. Written in the first person perspective, Moinette takes the reader from house to house, job to job, owner to owner. She captures
...more
Sue
Feb 19, 2013 marked it as decided-not-to-read
I first discovered Susan Straight by accident in her oddly titled "Aquaboogie," a collection of interconnected short stories. I found the book strangely compelling & kept re-reading parts of it. A couple of years later, without realizing at first that this was the same author, I stumbled on "I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen & Licked Out All the Pots," & the followup to that, "Blacker than a Thousand Midnights." By now I was aware of her as an unusually talented author, so I deliberately lo ...more
Saskia
Feb 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Told in lyrical prose, Susan Straight's "A Million Nightingales" is a deep exploration of Moinette's life as a female slave in Louisiana. She is exposed to the pain of forced labor, being owned, treated and traded like an "animal". Having learned about spiritual life from her mother, she is engaged in a deep exploration of the dichotomies of ancient African traditions and "modern", scientific views, where - as one example - hair can be seen as keeper of spirit to one or dead matter to the other. ...more
Shauna
May 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
I love Susan Straight. If her publishing life had begun 10 years earlier, she'd be the queen of American letters, as in tone and content she's better matched with Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, and Jane Smiley than Allison Krauss, Audrey Niffenegger, Vendela Vida, et al.

Oh well.

But here she is, and like I said, I do love her, though I'm yet to read a novel of hers as magnifcent as her short stories. A Million Nightingales was stunning at the outset -- I was reminded of the experience of reading
...more
History Lover
Oct 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book had me thinking about it months after reading it. I loved this book because, it was real, the author did not sugar coat anything. I had a connection to the main character. My mother. When I finished the book, I couldn't help but cry. It made me think of life, death and everything between. I will never forget this book as long as I live. The pain and sadness was so striking! Although at first I found it hard to follow, since a lot of French was spoken! But as time grew I adjusted. After ...more
Sophfronia Scott
I wanted to like this book more. There's some beautiful writing here and Susan Straight does a good job of bringing to life an early 1800s Louisiana still struggling with the newness of its statehood. Also, really, how can I resist a story with characters named Sophia and Fronie? But I was frustrated with the novel's one note tone. I know the main character, the slave girl Moinette, feels deeply--she misses her beloved mother, for example--but everything she relates is told in the same deadpan, ...more
Jessica Yvonne
Aug 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I thought it was a pretty good read. It gave me a break from some of the modern setting books I was reading. The main character in the book is placed in situations thag are trying both physically & mentally. She endures many hardships in life in hopes of become free person and buying the freedom of her son & mother. Although the story seems slow at first many things occur during her lifetime. It is really a tragic story that reflects many issues (racism, slavery, bigotry, & homosexua ...more
Gloria
Dec 24, 2013 rated it liked it
It was a little hard going at first because the writing is very stream of consciousness and disjointed, but after a chapter or two I had the rhythm of it. Moinette is a high colour (half white, half black) slave in Louisiana before the Americans buy the area from France. She is sold when she is fourteen, and constantly yearns to be reunited with her mother. Moinette has an inquiring mind and is forever trying to make sense of things. How can she be an animal and her owners animals, and still not ...more
Poupina
A trilogy, set in the 50s, following a slave girl's journey from captivity in La to freedom in CA. Highlighting the emotional strain and abuse of slaves in the early 19th century, the main characters have true voices - they speak Creole French throughout the book. This makes the story feel really authentic, and there's a glossary in the back describing terms for those who might find it difficult to read. Another highlight is the issue of rape & the views that can be discussed once you read t ...more
Jill Riebesehl
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This ia a valiant and successful effort to get into the skin of a half-caste slave in Louisiana in the late 1700s. This impeccably researched historical novel, in addition to some excellent character development and wonderful writing (although maybe a tad too poetic), dramatizes the polyglot culture from the viewpoints not only of the underclass, but also slave and plantation owners. Straight helps a reader see that back then, even white women weren't free, and perhaps neither were the upper cla ...more
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Susan Straight's newest novel is "Between Heaven and Here." It is the last in the Rio Seco Trilogy, which began with "A Million Nightingales" and "Take One Candle Light a Room." She has published eight novels, a novel for young readers and a children's book. She has also written essays and articles for numerous national publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Nation and
...more
More about Susan Straight...
“I have a million nightingales on the branches of my heart singing freedom.” 3 likes
“The Men hunted money and sex. The women were hunted and captured, even the white women.” 2 likes
More quotes…