National Book Award, Fiction, 2013
From the best-selling author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade - and who must pass as a girl to survive.
Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town - with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.
Over the ensuing months, Henry - whom Brown nicknames Little Onion - conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 - one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.
An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.
©2013 James McBride (P)2013 Penguin Audiobooks
with reservations. I like historical fiction. In this book, I think the author went beyond the point of credibility. I think the author got caught up in trying to cover too many themes.
narrator was fine
no. The story is over.
I am not sure after reading this book what was real and what was created for the story.
Top rung. I always enjoy Michael Boatman's performances. His voice is both entertaining and really captures the time, locales, dialects. I really liked his John Brown voice. I selected this book because I had heard about it since it won the National Book Award. Michael Boatman was a pleasant surprise.
So many lines, like "no more than a hog know'd a holiday" reminded me of characters I have known, expressions that are both dated and down home, depending on where home is.
His voice of the John Brown character was over the top, which is apropos for a character as extreme and passionate in his religious fervor as the "Old Man" Brown.
The Onion. He's a slave child who says he lived a comfortable life until an encounter with John Brown got his father killed and him captured by Brown who was hell bent on freeing the slaves. On the road with Brown, he meets Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Jeb Stuart before surviving the raid at Harpers Ferry. The Onion is too flawed to be a hero and too savvy to be a victim. He's an undeserving coward who disrespects people and God, but whose brave spiritual awakening is the only point of the whole adventure. And yes, he dressed like a girl for several years just to save his "arse", and he had everyone mostly fooled.
Surely the details of the protagonist's experiences seem over the top and too fictionalized for a historical novel. Instead, regard this as an entertaining yarn with a historical foundation rather than an historical novel with a haughty air of authenticity. If you want your history uncut, go with Doris Kearns Goodwin. If you want to have fun with the brutal John Brown Raid, the unspeakable degradation of American slavery and the run-up to the bloody US Civil War, "The Good Lord Bird" is a good choice. Thanks, James McBride and Michael Boatman!
Eclectic physical philosopher, carbon free commuter, fitness consultant, personal trainer, non-medical nutritional counselor, yoga teacher.
It was hard to follow in the beginning, but once I got into it, I enjoyed it and I'm glad I read the whole thing.
I saw the movie in my head. It would be amazing to have the sensitivity of Ang Lee and crazy, intense, insanity of Quentin Tarrantino collaborate. (But maybe that's just me.)
It was fun to read and it perked up my interest for history of that era (of which I'm shamefully ignorant.) The more you read, the more you realize how many wonderful books, & subjects there are to read about.
The narration of this book was harsh and loud. The story was interesting enough and I did listen all the way through, but wouldn't recommend it because it just wasn't enjoyable. I have read other books by James McBride and liked them.
Perhaps people who like a simple story with much repetition will enjoy this book more than I did.
The narrator was ok, but a bit "one note" for the main character.
I was disappointed in the repetitive storyline, endless descriptions of John Brown's wrinkles and hokum from the main character. To me, the main character lacked depth and the story was shallow. With such rich subject matter, I expected more heart. I did make myself listen all the way through, even though I was annoyed at times and found that I didn't look forward to listening.
No one can improve on the author,s portrayal of Brown, burning up before our eyes
However with the absence of any other charcter development, the minstrel show humor,
I cannot imagine who, how old, where educated, and what color the critics are. Literature's power to transport us does not rely on repetitious celebration of saying forbidden words and telling dirty stories.
It is not even disgusting at last; it is just a waste of time. Where is the value ?
What genre do you think it is?
Yes. I won't notice, probably.
Yes. The fine portrayal of John Brown
Like some other reviewers, I was exhausted by the narrator's loud, overacted voice. I had been looking forward to this book, as I thoroughly enjoyed McBride's memoir, The Color of Water. But this book is too long for a pretty shallow plot. I know that I will avoid books narrated by Michael Boatman in future.
The production quality and narrator for this book were so good that they kept me going even when the book itself drove me nuts.
Apparently, this book has been controversial because of the author's use of dialect imagined to be of the day. I found this to be one of the stronger, more inventive aspects of the book - the language is vivid and colorful, and did not find it racist as it applied to all characters, black and white.
The book uses realism to defend its use of dialect in the narrative; however, the shallow, feckless treatment of slavery and prostitution is so white-washed that it becomes offensive. The book also stretches credulity many times: e.g., a drunk, 13-year old slave girl living in a whorehouse is never subjected to rough treatment by the white, frontiersmen customers (there are many situations like this - including a ridiculous encounter with Frederick Douglas.) The only way the teenaged narrator's perspective on is believable is if we were white readers in 1936 and we Prissy from Gone with the Wind had written a book.
The book is also tiresomely repetitive in several spots - plot lines being repeated and repeated to make sure the reader gets it, some of the same expressions over-used until they become hackneyed; the book needed a tougher editor.
The pity of it for me is that John Brown and the raid on Harper's Ferry and its place in the civil war is a subject of personal interest, but this book does little to illuminate potential aspects of Brown's character and trivializes the impact of his followers, including the African-Americans who followed him.
The end of the book (after the raid), has some dignity denied throughout the rest of the book, and does try to do something redeemable with the central analogy around the now-extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, but it's too little, too late.
Most of the book is like watching Al Jolson, in blackface, sing "Mammy." An offensive and very outdated stereotype.
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