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samedi 7 février 2009

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

I am going to lump two books that are far from one another in time but near one another in theme. No doubt, all of you read Uncle Tom’s Cabin when you were teenagers but perhaps did not sufficiently appreciate the courage and the talent of the author at that time in your lives. This book shows in ways never seen before, the meaning of human beings used as property. It portrays an economic system based on dreadful injustice and yet maintained and faithfully exercised by believing Christians who were sure that they performed God’s work and fulfilled his commands by exploiting the work of their fellow men in a grotesquely unjust manner. Southern plantations prospered by means of slaves as property until the horrors grew to be known and made poignant via the slaves who managed to escape to the north, in particular into Canada. As a side comment, be it known that I believe eight U.S. presidents were slave owners. No wonder we are not done with the consequences of this history.

Geraldine Brooks who writes today and who is or perhaps was, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal and received the Pulitzer Prize, has written several novels of which I will mention MARCH, the father of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a radical clergyman based on Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father who goes off to war to fight the horrors of slavery from the perspective of a minister in New England at the time of which Mrs. Stowe tells her story from the point of view of a Southern woman in 1861.

Do not imagine that this is a simplistic right/wrong tale of good and evil.  Far from it.  Both books deal with the complexities of the disaster, of the misery of war and the tragedies of peace, but they can be and perhaps should be read one after another to get a full picture of a time which is, by all accounts concerning the last American election, not yet completely resolved. Color mattered.  Color matters still. 

While I am talking to you about Geraldine Brooks, I would like to draw your attention to two other books by the same author: Year of Wonders and People of the Book.  The former deals with the bubonic plague in a village in England in the seventeenth century and the latter is almost a detective story concerning the origins of an illuminated manuscript created by Spanish Jews around 1500 and mysteriously survived to be discovered in Sarajevo in the present time. I agree, this is not much of a review, but I was so thrilled and enthralled by all three of the Brooks books that I need at least to mention them to you while focusing on the Civil War and race aspect of the two first ones I mentioned and meant to write about.