shortlisted for Book of the Month
"This is a very powerful and emotional book ... Ms Mahurin has created totally believable characters and even the evil Prescott is not, you feel, a mere stereotype."
Late 1800s / 1915
America's Deep South
American Civil War
In 1915, a black man attends a lecture given by Booker T Washington in memory of Harriet Tubman. On his way he reflects on his life and experiences as a slave in Louisiana just prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War.
Oscar was born on a plantation to slave parents, Mack and Catherine (Cat) Mercer. There's was a life of misery, of working 'cin to cain't' (can see until can't see), planting, tending and finally harvesting sugar cane. A life in which violence and cruelty can be expected every day, a life that was all but without hope.
After Mack is killed by the viciously cruel overseer, Prescott, Cat instils in the seven-year-old Oscar that silent obedience is the best way to stay alive and that one day Oscar will be able to escape and become a free man. The thought becomes an obsession for Oscar; after a couple of years when he is old enough to go to work, a new slave arrives with news of the possibility of Civil War and tales of the Underground Railroad and a woman called Harriet Tubman. Plans are made for Oscar and his friend Sammy to escape but are continuously postponed until an event changes everything. This event was on the day that Oscar saw the hummingbird …
What follows are his harrowing adventures aided by 'conductors' and safe houses to avoid capture and certain death.
This is a very powerful and emotional book and defines the phrase 'man's inhumanity to man'. Ms Mahurin has created totally believable characters and even the evil Prescott is not, you feel, a mere stereotype. The dialogue is authentic, its nuances never overstated. To be honest, it made me angry for these inhumanely treated people; I have no doubts that the incidents were drawn from real events, sometimes brutal, sometimes senseless, sometimes heartwarming.
A great read especially for those interested in this shameful piece of our history.
© Richard Tearle