Friday, April 01, 2011


Jubilee. Margaret Walker. 1966. 512 pages.

"May Liza, how come you so restless and uneasy? You must be restless in your mind."
"I is. I is. That old screech owl is making me nervous."
"Wellum, 'tain't no use in your gitting so upsot bout that bird hollering. It ain't the sign of no woman nohow. It always means a man."
"It's the sign of death."

Jubilee chronicles Vry's life. As a child. As a woman. As a daughter. As a mother. As a wife. As a slave. As a freedwoman. Before, during, and after the Civil War. During Reconstruction. It is a story of survival, of endurance, of incredible strength, of incredible integrity, of hope and despair, of fear and courage.

It's not an easy read. Because Vry's life was not an easy life. There's a necessary harshness, cruelty, and pain to it. For Vry was a slave. She may have been biracial. She may have looked white even. But she was a slave and her mistress NEVER let her forget it for a moment. The picture readers get of slavery is not pretty, not romanticized. The language is strong.

I thought Jubilee was wonderfully written. It's a powerful read, a compelling one. Very emotional. Very memorable. I would definitely recommend this one!

Vry's advice to a new slave:

Don't never grin in that white woman's face. She don't know what you mean. I was borned here, and I been here all my life, and you don't see me grinning bout nothing, now does you? Well, they ain't nothing here to grin about, that's how come I ain't grinning. (131)

Vry's prayer:

Lawd, God-a-mighty, I come down here this morning to tell you I done reached the end of my rope, and I wants you to take a-hold. I done come to the bottom of the well, Lord, and my well full of water done run clean dry.
I come down here, Lord, cause I ain't got no where else to go. I come down here knowing I ain't got no right, but I got a heavy need. I'm suffering so, Lord, my body is heavy like I'm carrying a stone. I come to ask you to move the stone, Jesus. Please move the stone! I come down here, Lord, to ask you to come by here, Lord. Please come by here!
We can't go on like this no longer, Lord. We can't keep on a-fighting, and a-fussing, and a-cussing, and a-hating like this, Lord. You done been too good to us. We done wrong, Lord, I knows we done wrong. I ain't gwine say we ain't done wrong, and I ain't gwine promise we might not do wrong again cause, Lord, we ain't nothing but sinful human flesh, we ain't nothing but dust. We is evil peoples in a wicked world, but I'm asking you to let your forgiving love cover our sin, Lord.
Let your peace come in our hearts again, Lord, and we's gwine try to stay on our knees and follow the road You is laid before us, if You only will.
Come by here, Lord, come by here, if you please. And Lord, I wants to thank You, Jesus, for moving the stone! (454-55)

Vry's advice to her son:

Keeping hatred inside makes you git mean and evil inside. We supposen to love everybody like God loves us. And when you forgives you feels sorry for the one what hurt you, you returns love for hate, and good for evil. And that stretches your heart and makes you bigger inside with a bigger heart so's you can love everybody when your heart is big enough. Your chest gets broad like this, and you can lick the world with a loving heart! Now when you hates you shrinks up inside and gets littler and you squeezes your heart tight and you stays so mad with peoples you feel sick all the time like you needs the doctor. Folks with a loving heart don't never need no doctor. (457)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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