Book Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Book Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Disclosure: The links below will take you to Amazon.com.  LiteratureLynx is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This adds no additional cost to you.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Publisher’s blurb: “The true story of an individual’s struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.

Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs’ harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like “garret” attached to her grandmother’s porch.

A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman’s determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.” (Dover Publications ©2001, blurb taken from Amazon)

Oof. What do I even say about this book?

It’s powerful.

It’s heartbreaking.

It’s depressing.

It’s a hard read, but that’s no surprise. As I was reading, I kept wanting to use the word surreal, but therein lies the terrifying part: everything discussed in the book is real, happened to real people, and frankly, wasn’t that long ago. If you think about all of human history, 150 years isn’t that far back.

Yet again, let’s talk about the importance and power of #ownvoices storytelling. There is absolutely no way that this story, this perspective, would be well-explained from someone who didn’t live it. A woman’s experience of slavery was entirely different than a man’s. Both narratives are important, but we have so few female accounts to talk about. Jacobs’ own choices and decision making play a large role in the outcome of her story, which isn’t something we get to see very often when reading about slavery.

Style-wise, ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’ is pretty straightforward. It’s written like a story in 41 essays, not like a history textbook. It’s easy to understand and you never get bogged down with dates or outside references.

I’m not sure this is necessary, but I will throw a caution out there for potential readers: There is obviously a lot of derogatory language and violence detailed throughout the book. Jacobs doesn’t delve too deeply into her own sexual abuse and harassment, but it’s not hard to read between the lines. It’s difficult to read, yes, but that is precisely why it’s important. We all need to reflect back and acknowledge how horrible this time period of our history was.

We cannot gloss over the past. We cannot forget what happens when human beings determine value based on skin tone. We cannot pretend that racism is over.

I wrote a post last month called Civil Rights in 2017, where I talked about the ways in which people of color are still oppressed, and still treated as second-class citizens (or worse). In addition to the points I made there, I would like to direct your attention to this article, which talks about sexual violence and race. The State of African American Women in the U.S. was also an interesting read; it looks at heath care and economic statistics specifically for this demographic.

This book is an important addition to black history, but also to women’s history. Those two things are not separate issues. Women’s issues are racial issues and vice versa.

This isn’t a happy read, but I recommend it anyway. History isn’t always happy. Reality isn’t always happy, but it’s important to know where we’ve come from.

Friday Teaser

Friday Teaser

Today I’m combining a few different book blogger memes- Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader and First Lines Friday, hosted by Wandering Words.

For Book Beginnings, you simply share the first sentence or two of your current read, and your first impressions of the book. For First Lines Friday, you do the same thing, but don’t reveal the title of the book until afterwards.

I intended to review this book today, but life got in the way. Instead, I’ll give you a little peak, and hopefully I’ll have the review up on Monday.

First Lines (taken from the author’s preface): “Reader, be assured this narrative is no fiction. I am aware that some of my adventures may seem incredible: but they are, nevertheless, strictly, true. I have not exaggerated the wrongs inflicted by Slavery; on the contrary, my descriptions fall far short of the facts.”

First Impressions: I’m not sure I’m emotionally prepared for such a heavy topic at the moment, but it was important to me that I read this book during Black History Month. As I pointed out in a previous post, there is more to black history than slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, but to ignore those topics completely would also be missing the point. Not only is this book an important piece of African-American history, it’s also one of the few accounts written by a black woman.

What Am I Reading?

 

Publisher’s blurb: “The true story of an individual’s struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.

Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs’ harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like “garret” attached to her grandmother’s porch.

A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman’s determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.” (taken from Amazon)

I know that I’ll be an emotional wreck after finishing this book, but I feel compelled to read it anyway. This isn’t fictionalized, or dramatized for Hollywood. This story is real and while I can’t say I’m looking forward to it exactly, I know I’ll be glad I read it.

What are you reading this weekend?

 

Shelf Control: The Handmaid’s Tale

Shelf Control: The Handmaid’s Tale

Today’s post is a meme hosted by Lisa, over at Bookshelf Fantasies. In her own words, “Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up!”

I have so, so many books that fall into this category. I use my library a lot, but I also buy books faster than I can read them, and my TBR shelf is a little out of control. I tried to keep this in mind when I chose the books I’ll be reviewing in March (which is Women’s History Month) and hopefully that will clear a lot of things off the shelf…

Having said that, here’s one such book:

Disclosure: The links below will take you to Amazon.com. LiteratureLynx is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This adds no additional cost to you.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Publisher’s blurb: “The seminal work of speculative fiction from the Booker Prize-winning, soon to be a Hulu series starring Elizabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, and Joseph Fiennes.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and literary tour de force.” (Anchor Books ©1998, blurb from Amazon)

How I got it: I bought it at a used bookstore. I read another of Atwood’s books, ‘The Blind Assassin‘ for a college class and enjoyed it, so I started looking for her other works.

When I got it: … years ago…? I want to say I bought it in 2012, maybe? It’s made multiple moves with me, but I still haven’t gotten around to it.

Why I want to read it: I added this book to my TBR pile for a few reasons. 1- it’s a dystopian novel about gender politics, which is interesting enough by itself. 2- I enjoy Atwood’s writing. 3- ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is on all of the “must-read” lists, but particularly if you’re looking for feminist literature. I’m a little nervous that it’s going to feel all too real, given the current political/social climate in the U.S. but that feels like all the more reason to read it. This seems like an appropriate book to read during Women’s History Month, and it’s time I commit and pick it up.