So instead, I’m going to use Fridays to give just some general book reviews of what I’m reading and what I’m hoping to read. Maybe some Top Ten topics will crop up from time to time, but for now, we’ll just go with reviews. Sound okay?
Today, I thought I’d share a few novels I’m reading or have just read about people during the period of slavery in the U.S.
A Mercy by Toni Morrison – Morrison is one of my favorite writers, and this book is just another example of why. The book tells the story of two women – one enslaved and one free – and their relationship to each other. Both narratives are first-person, and so the story shows the hardship and travail of both women in a time when all women were considered property of a sort. As usual, Morrison’s writing is reach and complex, and I’m savoring every sentence as I approach the end of the book.
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom– This novel is written in the perspective of a young, white indentured servant who comes to live with the enslaved community at a Virginia Plantation. She comes to know these people as her family and finds herself struggling with questions of race and enslavement as she grows older.I found this book to be a quite captivating read, and I appreciated the exploration of the legacy of indentured servitude in the book. It’s not an easy story, but then, what about slavery was easy?
The House Girl by Tara Conklin – I’m just finishing this book now, and again, I’m captivated by the story – a mystery of sorts. Two storylines run here – one of Josephine, the young woman who is taken away from the only family she knew to serve in the house with the master’s family. Her rape by the master, and her eventual decision to run away. The other story is of Lina, a 21st century lawyer working on a slavery reparations case for a client. In her work, she finds Josephine, and their stories intersect. Another important book – and one that brings up the question of reparations in a fresh and intriguing way.
I recommend all three books, even as I find that the writing is far better in A Mercy far superior to the writing in the other two books. Conklin’s and Grissom’s novels are easy reads; Morrison’s is much harder but much richer for the work required.
Reading these books at the same time I’m doing a lot of thinking about women during slavery – particularly the place of enslaved women – has been a powerful experience. While I would never justify the enslavement of another human being because one person suffered – as white women often did (and do) at the hand of patriarchy, these books have helped me to see the complexity of these relationships – friendships some, kinship often, just still inherently unequal and oppressive.
Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think of them? Or have you read any other novels set in the period of antebellum slavery that you would recommend?