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Posts tagged ‘Barracoon’

Review: ‘Barracoon’ by Zora Neale Hurston

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a shame that this book had to wait so many years to find a publisher. But we finally have Cudjo Lewis story. In her beautiful foreword, Alice Walker writes that “I’m not sure there was ever a harder story to read than this…” I agree. The story is unique in many ways: Cudjo, whose real name was Kossola, tells a story that includes his life in Africa and his life during the “Middle Passage” voyage to the United States after the slave trade was banned.  Most histories don’t include life in Africa or on the slave ship.

His story is dear because he wanted to tell it and because Hurston was a skilled anthropologist and knew how to collect stories. The story is dear because you can feel its truth in your bones; Hurston did not intrude herself or her perspectives into the narrative. And then, too, Curjo speaks in his own English dialect and that adds great depth and reality to the tale. We hear that Hurston couldn’t publish the book when she wrote it because the publishers wanted her to get rid of the dialect. I didn’t find it to be a problem even though a fair number of Amazon reader reviews say the dialect was hard to read. No, it wasn’t.

Cudjo has some traditional tales of his own to tell. These appear an appendix so that they won’t disrupt his story about being captured by blacks, placed in a barracoon (slave house), sold to whites, and then having to endure many days at sea before ending up at a plantation where he was expected to work. The experience seems incomprehensible to him. So, too, is the fact that once he’s set free, he has no money and no land, so where is he supposed to go?

Deborah G. Plant has done a fine job editing the material and writing an afterword and a glossary that place Cudjo’s story in perspective. Readers have a choice because the editor’s comments were placed in this separate section rather than being distributed throughout the narrative as lengthy and jarring footnotes. As such, you can read the story and then look at the added material–or simply read the story as a lover of Hurston’s works and/or oral history.

Cudjo’s story is filled with great loss, great wisdom, and–strange as it may seem–more humor than anger for a man torn away from the country of his birth and forced to live and work and endure a hard existence in a country where he was never whole again.

Malcolm

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Briefly noted: ‘Go Gator and Muddy the Water: Writings by Zora Neale Hurston from the Federal Writers Project’

It’s a sad commentary on biased people that the majority of Zora Neale Hurston’s writings for President Roosevelt’s Federal Writing Project for Florida never made it into the Florida guide. Politics and racism kept a lot of her work out of the public eye for a long time even thought she was one of the state’s best collectors of folklore. She saw better than most, I think, the value of old stories as they relate to a place.

By now, her expunged FWP writings have surfaced in a variety of places. Fortunately, most of them–such as Kristin G. Congon’s Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales–credit Hurston with collecting these folktales in 1938 (or earlier). I mention Uncle Monday in my novel Eulalie and Washerwoman.

Go Gator and Muddy the Water, while an old book that grew out of Pamela Bordelon’s doctoral dissertation has been around for almost twenty years, it includes Hurston’s stories along with some meaningful commentary. It remains an excellent resource, and Bordelon’s essay offers helpful perspective.

Most readers remember Hurston as the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God and/or her posthumous novel Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo released in May.  Both novels are masterpieces, I think. However, her range and her contribution to our understanding of our past is larger than these novels and can be found in her work as a collector of folklore.

I have found great inspiration and enjoyment from her stories.

Malcolm