Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The History of Mary Prince - Review

This is more akin to a short story than a novel, but it's an engrossing quick read. It's a true story about a black slave in late 18th century American, and covers Mary's life up until her dictation of the story. There's no chapter structure, as it's too short and too intertwined in itself to separate into conventional chapters. Now, so as to avoid spoiling it too much, I won't tell you what happens, but I'll discuss some interesting things.

The first striking thing is Mary's speech; it's very pronounced and lacks a dialect I've come to expect from other novels with black narrators (side note: I highly recommend you read Sam Selvon's Lonely Londoners, where the narrator uses Caribbean dialect throughout the novel). She also speaks carefully, continuously refusing to repeat insults from her slave masters. On the other hand, her story was dictated by her, written by someone else, and edited by another person, which brings up the interesting point of authorship of the work. Does Mary even have a full or completely truthful voice here? Or has the writer/editor removed or altered things, such as Mary's account of her family.

Another big thing is the openness of the treatment of slaves. Whilst her first couple of maters are said to be nice, she is soon forced into a brutal cycle of hard labour and unjustified violence. In the end, she does get out, but it's not some heroic rescue or single, powerful stance of freedom. It's not drawn out or climatic, instead it's more ordinary in nature.

Something interesting, however, is that, in the Penguin version I own (I link you to it at the bottom), there is a brief narrative from another slave who was captured and sold, rather than born into slavery, called Asa-Asa. Additionally, the appendix provides Mary's appearance as a witness in a case between her last master and her employee of the time, and even a poem on slavery.

In all, I believe this is a wonderful quick read, and the wealth of additional information makes a great book for those interested in the history of slavery. I won't number rate this one, but I recommend it for audiences interested!

Book can be found here (UK) and here (US)

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