One of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. A truly moving read. A unique perspective and long-ago voice much awaited. A heart-rendering true story. A treasure.
These are all things I could say about the just-released Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.” Zora Neale Hurston (author of “Their Eyes Were Watching God”) submitted her manuscript for Barracoon to a publisher almost 100 years ago. It was rejected because it was written in “black dialect.”
The manuscript was finally published last month via HarperCollins, and it’s like a rare gift from the past.
Hurston was an author, yes, but she was also a historian, folklorist, and anthropologist. When she set out to interview her subject in 1927 rural Plateau, Alabama, she knew that the human race had very little time left to seek out the last surviving slave trade victims and get their stories. She did just that.
Though 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis was a bit difficult to pin down, Hurston was able to convince him to let her interview him with promises of company….and little gifts (many in the form of agricultural bounty). The stories of his life began to pour out of his mouth, little by little, and Hurston captured it all in his own dialect, beautifully and amazingly.
In this book you will follow Cudjo as he is at first at home in his native land, then to the raid that caused him to be forced on board a slave ship as one of the last Atlantic slave trade cargo.
I won’t spoil it too much for you. Though a short read, it’s packed full of parables, heartache, love, and loss. My heart broke with Cudjo as he described some of the great sadnesses of his life.
When he fully realizes what Hurston is there to do, he graciously allows her entrance into his private thoughts and life, but with one condition: “I want you everywhere you go to go tell everybody whut Cudjo say, and how come I in Americky soil since de 1859 and never see my people no mo’.”
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