Song Yet Sung by James McBride
The Plot: Liz Spocott, slave, breaks free from her captors and escapes into the labyrinth of the creeks and swamps of Maryland’s Eastern shore. What follows is a chase story that involves slave catchers, small plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves and a secret underground network of free blacks helping their fellows. Mixed into this adventure tale is also the story of Liz’s special talent of visioning the future. As the New York Times said, in its review, Song Yet Sung is a story of tragic triumph, violent decisions, and unexpected kindness.
I don’t generally like historical novels, but Song Yet Sung brought me to the Eastern Shore of Maryland before the Civil War and showed me a face of slavery and small farm living that has been hard to forget. The power of the tale – which is an exciting adventure, by the way, as well as an historical novel – comes from the fact that McBride never directly rails against the evils of slavery. He shows you – with a powerful narrative and complex and unforgetable characters – that no matter how much “the whites” cared for their slaves, or how much the slaves cared for their masters – the institution of slavery, by its very nature, is evil. And no good can come of evil – ever.
If you are looking for something really special to read in honor of Black History Month try McBride’s Song Yet Sung.