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Search tags: set-in-1900-1919
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review 2019-02-28 02:59
Barracoon (Audiobook)
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” - Zora Neale Hurston

This is an odd one to rate. This is a short piece and once you get into the narrative, it's a series of interviews that author Zora Neale Hurston did with the last survivor of the last "black cargo" Kazoola, renamed Cudjo Lewis by his master.

 

The interviews start with his life as a free man in Africa and goes over his life from the tribal wars that decimated his country and resulted in him and his other tribespeople being sold into slavery. He tells about his stay in the barracoon, awaiting transport to an unknown country. This was in 1860, long after the transport of human cargo was made illegal - not that this resulted in his freedom of course. Nope, just a fine for his buyers! He tells about his freedom, and how he and his other former tribespeople founded Africa Town, now called Plateau, Alabama. He gets married, they have several children

who all die through illness or violence or accident before their parents.

(spoiler show)

 

He had a fascinating life and getting to hear it through his own words and vernacular was really amazing. Hurston was right to insist that she keep his words intact. It could be difficult to read, but listening to Robin Miles's narration made it very easy to understand him.

 

What fell short for me was everything else. The running time on the audiobook is just under four hours, and only half of that is Cudjo talking about his life. The intro goes on for about an hour and details the accusations of plagiarism on Hurston's initial essay, published in 1928, before the majority of the interviews took place. The last forty minutes are Cudjo telling folktales or about games he used to play as a child. It was nice, but not really what I wanted to listen to. 

 

While I'm glad that Cudjo's words remained intact, I would've also liked for his testimonies to be expanded on with historical data. Being told that everything he said was verified isn't quite enough. We're not even told when he or his wife died. If we can be given an introduction that goes on and on about the plagiarism allegations, we can also get an afterword with supplementary information about Cudjo's life.

 

Still, this is an invaluable piece of history, and a remarkable man who lived through more trials than any one person should.

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review 2019-02-05 04:05
The Color Purple
The Color Purple - Alice Walker

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

 

I still remember the first time I saw the movie The Color Purple. It was at home, when it was on TV, and I was probably around 7 or 8. I only understood about half of what was going on, but it spoke to me. Celie's love for her sister Nettie and her strife living with Mr and her friendships with Sofia and Shug, all being filtered through Celie's open and loving heart caught hold of my own heart.

 

It wouldn't be until my late teens I finally read the book and fully comprehended everything that went over my head years earlier, and to reread it now nearly two decades later I see the themes here in a way I couldn't back then. But at the heart of it, it's still that same story of self-discovery, of love triumphing over hate - if not injustice - and learning to be comfortable in your own skin, learning to listen to your heart and the hearts of those around you. It's learning that even when you lose all hope, there's still more hope left to discover, that bad things will happen but good things will happen too. 

 

 

The book also examines the racism in the deep South that existed after the end of slavery, during the Jim Crow years, but doesn't stop there. It examines, through Nettie and her missionary work, how it also tore apart the African tribes at the start of the slave trade and continues to damage it to the present day. It doesn't let anyone off the hook. It examines the struggles of people of color, and especially women of color in a time when no one cared about them. 

 

It could be a very depressing book with all the issues it tackles, not just racism and gender inequality but also rape, incest, injustice, domestic abuse and cheating - nearly everything I don't like reading about all in one book. But from the POV of Celie, as she prays to God and later writes to her long-lost sister, the story flows with a strange mixture of innocence and knowing that helps sooth over what would otherwise be very difficult passages to read.

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review 2019-01-21 04:41
The Silver Music Box (Silver Music Box #1) (Audiobook)
The Silver Music Box - Mina Baites,Alison Layland

From the blurb, I thought this was going to be about Lillian finding out about her roots and trying to research where her family came from and what happened to them during WWII, but that part of the plot doesn't come in until a little over 2/3s of the way through the book. Instead, it starts out with Johann Blumenthal fighting in WWI for Germany, then follows through to his son Paul at the dawn of the Nazis taking over power and Paul's eventual attempts to get his family out of the country. When things are looking grim for them, it then drops that storyline and jumps forward to the 1960s to Lillian, where I thought the story was going to start.

 

It was a bit jarring to start off, since I wasn't expecting the story to be so linear, but in the end, I found it more effective getting to know the Blumenthal's and seeing their attempts to stay in Germany as long as they could before realizing - perhaps too late - that they needed to flee to save themselves. It was disheartening to see them doing everything they could to be good Germans, in a Germany that cared about them less and less, and to see the small steps that began to segregate the Jews from the main populace more and more until the Nazis were in power and didn't care about being quite so subtle anymore. 

 

This is compounded when they end up in Capetown in South Africa - they're safe there, but all around them is apartheid - which was implemented based on Aryan propaganda and laws.

(spoiler show)

 

I did feel at times that the characters were there more to serve as plot points, and Charolette suffers the most from this since she mostly just reacts while Paul is making all the preparations. Knowing how many women worked in the underground and resistance forces during WWII, I would have liked to see Charolette take a more active role. 

 

I also would have liked more time to get to know Lillian so her story arc could have more weight, but seeing her so driven to find out everything she could about where she came from and what happened to her family was touching nonetheless. 

 

The narrator, Jane Oppenheimer, who I first heard narrating The Moonlit Garden, was an odd choice I think for this story. She has a very mellow and soothing voice, which dulled the tension from a story that really should have been tense.

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review 2018-07-21 19:51
Balefire (Whyborne & Griffin #10)
Balefire - Jordan L. Hawk

This was another fun adventure with Ival and Griffin and the whole gang. The Endicotts are back, and there's trouble afoot across the pond. 

 

Our first encounter with the Endicott family was less than ideal, and the rivalry lends great tension to the story even before we get to Balefire. Ms. Hawk keeps expanding the universe she's created and it always feels authentic. She clearly planned this out from the start, instead of winging it like many authors do. We get more hints about the purpose of the maelstrom and Ival's and Persephone's connection to it.

 

It was a little predictable in some places, and since this took place outside Widdershins, we don't get to spend much time with some of the side characters. We get to see some Endicotts who aren't awful. 

Bringing the few who are left back to Widdershins should make for interesting times in the next book.

(spoiler show)

 

I'm saddened to see that this is the penultimate book in the series. I'm going to have to do a reread of the whole series before the next one comes out.

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review 2018-06-23 19:11
The Valley of Amazement
The Valley of Amazement - Amy Tan

I did something while reading this book that I have never done before: I flipped to the last page to see if it had a happy ending. Because good lord does Violet get put through the ringer.

 

This is often a difficult read, so I'll say upfront: if sexual exploitation makes you squeamish, you may want to skip this book. I'm usually one who wouldn't touch this with a ten-foot pole, but while the tone was unflinching, the details when divulged were detached enough to not affect me too much. Everyone has different tolerance levels and triggers, though, so it's something to consider.

 

This is set in the first half of the 1900s in China in the culture of the courtesan houses. It resembles Memoirs of a Geisha in that respect and it doesn't shy away from how young girls were sold and stolen into this life, but beyond the inner workings of the courtesan houses, this is a much different story with a different focus. 

 

As with all of Tan's work, this story is about the relationship between mothers and daughters, but unlike her other stories, this one is told primarily through Violet's POV. We follow her from a young, conceited girl growing up in her mother's courtesan house - not as a courtesan though, just to be clear on that point. She can only see how things effect her, how her mother is distant and aloof, and how she doesn't feel like she's loved enough. After they're separated by a ne'er-do-well and Violet is sold to another house, she must use her fierceness and determination to survive her new life and come to terms with the many twists and turns that her life makes. 

 

It's not all dire. She has a friend in the courtesan house to help her and protect her as much as possible, and she knows how to navigate this world better than most, though she makes many foolish decisions along the way. There are good moments as well, and Violet learns how to appreciate others, the depths of love and sacrifices that we make for each other along the way, all of which helps her to better understand the choices her own mother had made. But every time she takes a step forward, she's knocked twenty steps back. It's a long hard road, but there is a hopeful ending.

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