Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley and Open Road Media.
The best new television show for the 2015-2016 year is Underground. Shown on the WGN network, the series is about a group of slaves in the 1850s trying to escape. At times the show, as most television shows do, stretch the bounds of believability (how is one slave such a good shot despite never using a gun before, would those two people really be brothers, and how is that geography working for you?), yet the show is one that everyone should watch. It really does confront the evils of slavery head, including the white slave owner allowing the whipping of his mixed race child while the young woman’s mother looks on (this series also handles rape extremely well). Some of the criticism that show has garnered as also been on the lines of why you are bringing this up now.
Sometimes, I can’t deal with stupid (or worse) people.
The reason why I bring this up is that Open Road Media has re-issued Paula Fox’s Slave Dancer in kindle format.
Slave Dancer tells the story of a young boy, Jessie, who is shanghaied onto a slave ship. This ship transports slaves, illegally. Jessie’s job is to get the slaves to dance by playing music. This isn’t because the captain wants the slaves to be happy, but because he wants the slave to arrive looking fit or at least worth playing.
Perhaps the kidnapping aspect is a bit contrived and its use to make Jessie, who lives in New Orleans, a more sympathetic character than he otherwise, would be. Perhaps, but despite this, the story itself is still powerful. Fox does not pull her punches. Jessie’s trip is horrifying. In many ways, Fox follows in Twain’s tradition footsteps. If Huck Finn is about a boy raised in the slave holding South who learns to see a slave as a man, as a de facto father, then Fox‘s book is about a boy’s discovering of a conscious. The trip destroys as opposed to answer’s Jessie’s obsession with slavery trading, something that he was pushed away from as a child in New Orleans. His journey to objecting about slavery, something he only had curiosity about before, also seems to mirror that of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
And this is why this children’s book is important - we need to know the past and comfort it. But we need to know it in its true form (or as true as we can get). To simply say slave or enslaved doesn’t capture what happened. And this book is a work of fiction, true. But fiction, in some ways, has the power to show truth in a way that non-fiction doesn’t.