Tuesday, July 8, 2014


It's high time I shared a few of the books I've been reading. As always, a pattern emerges. For some reason, I've been compelled to study slave narratives: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup; Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs; and others compiled by state. Many of these are free on the kindle and I am so thankful that this material, this bearing of witness shall not be lost. The language is formal and the writers take great pains to spare the reader their sufferings from the most violent atrocities committed against them. Contrast that with the tell-all memoirs of today. I remember reading Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen and not being able to finish it because it was so harrowing. And I thought, someone has taken the trouble to record this so that we may never forget; how can I be such a coward as to stop halfway?

Some of the things that struck me: Faith in God. These slaves trusted in God; they gave their lives over to Him. They entrusted their children -- who were also slaves and weren't necessarily kept with the family. How many mothers and fathers have mourned the loss of their children? What surprised me over and over is how callous the owners were towards their own flesh. Many beget children through the slave women, but they thought of them as property, not children, and sold them to other plantations. I have a hard time understanding a Christian nation upholding slavery for as long as it did, but I am beginning to see how the Word in the Bible can be taken out of context to suit your own purposes. And finally, how these slaves gave thanks for the most simple joys -- of having a mug of water, or the smile upon their babies' faces, or a warm fire at night. I have always loved the spirituals but reading their stories makes them even more poignant.

In the end notes of the slave narratives, I learned that many were compelled to write so that they could help end slavery. The very first book though, that I ever read on the topic was Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It held me captive. And it goes to show the power of fiction. It is a book that changed the American landscape. This mother of seven, she was passionate about ending slavery and did what she could do! Write a best-selling novel!

Do you think about changing the world with your words? I do. They seem like lofty dreams but I know that even if one life is changed for the better from one of my stories, the effort would have been worthwhile.

So tell me, what are you passionate about?


Mirka Breen said...

I have no illusions about changing the world;this would really be a wish to be G-d-like, I fear. But I still harbor a wish to change someone's world, even if a bit.

Slavery is a baffling thing to the modern mind. The notion of owning another person just seems so improbable that it could have been held by reasonable and kind people, and yet until a certain time, it was.

Faith E. Hough said...

Thanks for sharing your reading list, Vijaya! Did you know that Abraham Lincoln credited Harriet Beecher Stowe with winning the Civil War? Without the influence of her story, he said, the people would never have rallied behind the cause. A good lesson in how to change the world while staying home and raising your children, huh? :)

Marcia said...

I see Faith and I are thinking alike again; imagine that.:) Lincoln's comment to HBS also came to my mind. The wonderful thing is that if we're smack-dab in God's will, he will use us to achieve the ultimate he has for us, no matter where we are. Can we change the world with our words? Absolutely. Think of how many did exactly this but did not know it in their own lifetime.

Vijaya said...

Mirka, to make a positive difference in someone's life is a great wish. Alas, even now, there are people who still believe blacks are subhuman.

Faith, I didn't know Abe said that about HBS but it is true.

Marcia, looks like we're all on the same wavelength :) I love that with God, all is possible, even when we feel little and inadequate.