Gr 5-9-- Based on Harriet Jacobs's own autobiography, these so-called letters, written to lost relatives and friends, provide a microscopic look at what slavery meant for a young black female in the mid 1800s. The hope of freedom opens Harriet's story, as a dying mistress pledges to set the young slave free in her will. But broken promises abound in this slim volume. Harriet endures many hardships at the hands of her new owners and more struggles when she flees. Lost loves, sickness, motherly concerns for her two children and gentle observations on herself and those around her are combined with heavier comments on her slave condition. Thus, each letter pulsates with a rich vitality. The authentically re-created dialect is the book's strongest asset; readers will delight in phrases such as ``worry sticking to me like cockleburs.'' Although the letters end with Harriet's escape to the North, additional pages of straightforward biography complete the story. Readers will be fascinated with this opportunity to experience the day-to-day life of a girl caught up in the bonds of slavery. --Amy Nunley, Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, OH
[FOCUS, joint review--See also "Berry, James. Ajeemah and His Son"] With a searing combination of fact and fiction, two books set in the 1820s evoke what it was like to be a slave. Berry's docunovel begins in Africa, but most of it takes place on the plantations of the West Indies. Lyons sets her semifictionalized narrative in a North Carolina town. Both books focus on the individual experience, especially the enforced separation of parent and child by a system that views human beings as property. And in both stories the dream of escape is a sustaining vision
Ajeemah and his son Atu are kidnapped and sold in West Africa, never to see home or family again. After the bitter journey to Jamaica, they are separated forever, sold off to plantations 20 miles apart. Each sustains himself with memories of home, and each dreams of revenge and escape. The son's rebellion ends in heartbreak, flogging, suicide. The father is betrayed, but he survives to marry, sire a daughter, and celebrate when freedom comes.
Like Berry's short story collection, I>A Thief in the Village> >[BKL Ap 15 88], I>Ajeemah and His Son> is rooted in his native Jamaica, even as it reaches out to universals. He's also a fine poet, and he tells his story with the rhythm, repetition, and lyricism of the oral tradition, tells the history as passionately as the personal account of capture, journey, sale, and toil. No reader or listener will forget the scene where Ajeemah begs his kidnappers to tell his family what's happened to him: his captors look at him as if he's mad, and we know he will never see his loved ones again. Berry dramatizes how a new slave is renamed and broken in; how relatives and tribespeople are purposely kept separate. We feel the savagery of the system that buys and sells human beings (<169>He didn't belong to himself70>). Atu's story moves with inexorable tragedy: he nurses a young colt, trains it to full strength, dreams and schemes of riding away on its back, of getting revenge, of finding a ship. When the horse is confiscated by his owner, Atu breaks its legs97>and breaks himself
There's some overwriting at times: in the same paragraph Berry can slip from stirring poetry to rhetoric about 69>horror, awe and dread,70> and I>terrible> and I>awful> get overused. The villain always seems to walk with a 69>waddle,70> and there's a contrived plot element about some hidden gold. But there's no sentimentality. Even while he dramatizes the strong individual's power to transcend the plantation whips, Berry shows that the system kept most slaves subservient, 69>all beaten down, gutted and trampled.70> The book ends with the joyful wedding of Ajeemah's daughter soon after emancipation. But the son's despairing end underlies all celebration. And Africa is lost.
Lyons' story doesn't have the dramatic immediacy or the poetry of the Berry novel, perhaps because she uses too elaborate a frame. She tells the true story of the slave Harriet Jacobs in the form of fictionalized letters. Lyons imagines Harriet writing to her dead and distant loved ones, revealing her inner life, the thoughts and feelings that the slave system disregards.
Her owner dies when Harriet is 11 years old, and she hopes to be set free; instead, she's bequeathed to a three-year-old white child, the daughter of the town doctor. Soon, the teenage slave has to fight off the sexual molestation of the doctor and the jealousy of his wife. Jacobs eventually has two children with another white man, but the continual threat of rape, of the auction block, and of separation from her children drives her into hiding. The doctor thinks she's fled north, but, in fact, she's hiding right there in town. For seven years she lives in a tiny garrett, cared for by her strong grandmother and watching her children through a chink in the wall.
Lyons (who has written an acclaimed biography of Zora Neale Hurston, I>Sorrow's Kitchen> >[BKL D 15 90]) provides extensive background about the real Harriet Jacobs, who eventually escaped north and wrote one of the few female slave narratives. With a rich, unobtrusive idiom based on Jacobs' own writing, Lyons re-creates the voice of a southern black slave and personalizes her sorrow.
REVWR Hazel Rochman
H1 Books for Youth
H2 Older Readers
AUTH Myers, Walter Dean
TITLE The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner
PUBD Oct. 1992
FORM2 lib. ed.
CAT Revenge--Fiction || Buried treasure--Fiction || West (U.S.)--Fiction || Afro-Americans--Fiction [CIP] 91-42401
REVIEW Gr. 5-9. Myers jumps right into the Old West idiom with a fist-swinging adventure narrated by voluble "brown as an Indian" Artemis Bonner, whose "Christian" ethic is spelled out in capital letters in his story. After Uncle Ugly's gunned down by that sneaky dog Catfish Grimes, who steals Uncle Ugly's treasure map, 15-year-old Artemis leaves his sainted Dear Mother and turns cowboy avenger. Abetted in his search for Grimes by 13-year-old orphan Frolic Brown ("my Indian name is Laughing Bear"), Artemis tracks the treasure, the traitor, and the lady of little virtue, Lucy Featherdip, who happens to be Catfish's accomplice. This is no namby-pamby western: there are punch-outs and shoot-outs that would make the Three Stooges proud, as characters seek each other out to do each other in. It's broad, cinematic comedy at its best. The pace is brisk, the tongue-in-cheek humor is beautifully maintained, and the conclusion hints of madcap adventures to come. A lively view of a wild Wild West where "good intentions and a kindly nature" don't necessarily help the hero either triumph or emerge unscathed.