Friday, February 01, 2008

15. "The Bondwoman's Narrative" - Hannah Crafts


Henry Louis Gates Jr. bid on a book at auction, a leatherbound journal by Hannah Crafts, an admitted female slave who escaped to a free state. He believes this is the earliest writing of a former slave and submits its contents as "a novel" to the public.

I don't believe in calling it a novel... it is one woman's autobiography. I would call it creative nonfiction. Gates left most of the misspellings from the journal, only editing when it would be confusing for the reader, but his diligence in proving that this is the true story of a pre-1850s slave is admirable.

Hannah Crafts's story is unlike many in that she was a house slave and had several opportunities (to learn, to pray, to walk freely) that others didn't. This doesn't mean that she didn't suffer hardships, but it is a unique version of our history.

Due to this nonfiction feel, as well as the mostly unedited prose, I don't feel it's right for me to "rate" this book. It would be like reading my grandmother's diary and rating its contents.

Hannah's story fills only half of the book; the remaining half is Gates's interpretations and explanations, from analyzing the paper pulp to studying other writings of that time. For those of you interested in American slavery history, this is a vital book to read.

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