Magazine article The Progressive

Of the Three Books That I've Dog-Eared Page after Page, Only One Was Published in 2014

Magazine article The Progressive

Of the Three Books That I've Dog-Eared Page after Page, Only One Was Published in 2014

Article excerpt

Of the three books that I've dog-eared page after page, only one was published in 2014. I liked Greg Grandin's book The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World (Metropolitan Books) so much that I wrote a review for The Progressive to join the chorus of praise.

The title comes from Herman Melville's "The Bell Tower" epigraph. The story Grandin pivots off also comes from Melville's Benito Cereno, a novella published in 1855, six years before the start of the Civil War, which tells the tale of enslaved West Africans rebelling, killing the slaver that planned to sell them, killing the crew, taking its captain hostage, and seizing the slave ship Tryal off the west coast of South America. I was drawn to Grandin's book after reading his New York Times essay "Obama, Melville and the Tea Party." In it he reflected back to a 2009 bookstore display in New York City with fifty of the books President Barack Obama read as a young man. One of the books was Benito Cereno.

My other picks are very personal. First is the novel The Book of Negroes (HarperCollins) by Lawrence Hill published in 2007. The book gets its title from a historical document of the same name kept by British naval officers at the end of the Revolutionary War that documents the 3,000-plus blacks who had served Britain during the war and were fleeing Manhattan for Canada in 1783.

Hill's main character is an African woman named Aminata Diallo, who is kidnapped at the age of eleven from her village in West Africa. She's then sent to live enslaved in South Carolina. Being very smart, she quickly learns English, and a fellow captive named Mamed secretly teaches her to read and write after learning that she's Muslim. …

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