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Publisher's Summary

An unprecedented historical and literary event, this tale written in the 1850s is the only known novel by a female African American slave, and quite possibly the first novel written by a black woman anywhere. A work recently uncovered by renowned scholar and professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., it is a stirring tale of "passing" and the adventures of a young slave as she makes her way to freedom.

The Bondwoman's Narrative tells of a self-educated young house slave who knows her life is limited by the brutalities of her society, but never suspects that the freedom of her plantation's beautiful new mistress is also at risk...or that a devastating secret will force them both to flee from slave hunters with another powerful, determined enemy at their heels.

This program includes an exclusive interview with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

©2002 Henry Louis Gates, Jr., All Rights Reserved (P)2002 Time Warner AudioBooks, a Division of the AOL Time Warner Book Group

Critic Reviews

"Thanks to the unrelenting probe of a Harvard University historian, again, we get the story from the woman's mouth itself. We learn the day-to-day experiences of a bondwoman through her fiction. We see in the intimacy of Craft's novel the gross, ugly vulgarity of the 'peculiar institution'." (Maya Angelou) "Let it be emphasized that this novel is not simply a historical document but also a vivid, compelling narrative." (Booklist)

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  • Overall
  • Hilary
  • Eugene, OR, USA
  • 11-15-04

Poor reading of an important book

Listening to Hannah Craft's "The Bondwoman's Narrative" I had the unique experience of realizing that I could have done a better job of reading -- and I'm no good at it. The reader, Anna Deveare Smith, demonstrated very little feeling for the text, and even seemed to allow her mind to wander while reading. Ms. Smith also used the unfortunate technique of reading dialogue very rapidly when trying to convey emotional intensity. When I first heard that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. had discovered a manuscript that was very likely the first novel written by a black woman in America, I was excited and impatient to read it. I am pleased to report that "The Bondwoman's Narrative" is a good yarn (several good yarns, really) that incorporates a number of literary traditions, including the sentimental novel, the gothic novel, adventure fiction, and slave narrative. With all this to recommend it, Ms. Smith's reading is so clumsy that I could not stand to finish "The Bondwoman's Narrative" in audio form. On a positive note, the audio book includes a fantastic interview with Gates about his discovery of the manuscript and his subsequent sleuthing to verify its authenticity and confirm the racial identity of the author.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Loved it!!!

What did you love best about The Bondwoman's Narrative?

The rich language which transported me in time.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Hannah by far was my favorite character. I loved how she leaned on scripture to get through the bad times. But Lizzie was a fun character too.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


The first novel written by a slave woman, and maybe the first novel by a black woman. This novel is great. And the fact that Hannah Crafts never had a formal education it is excellent. In fact most of the corrections she made improve the book. In the hardcopy edition of the book the information by Dr. Gaines about the book is facinating. This book is somthing that transcends race. READ THIS BOOK.

6 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Anna
  • Louisville, KY, USA
  • 01-21-04

Not what I was hoping for

The reader was different from what I'm used to, but very appropriate for the voice of the main character of the book. The story was interesting but not very well written or overly believable.

7 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

The Bondwoman's Narratve

Although the protagonist speaks with a remarkably cultured voice for a slave, the cloying and often flat descriptions do sound authentic to the period. I loved the mystery of this book - was it really written by a slave, or is Gates pulling one over on us? In any case, the narrative of her sad life is shocking, because it is hard to imagine that so recently in our history we could have deprived human beings of their fundamental rights. Certainly worth listening to - in fact, perhaps more interesting to listen to than it might be to read.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story


A fascinating look into the life of a slave woman to freedom.. The inclusion of a mullato mistress is intriguing. I felt the narrator rushed through the text at times and wished for a more languid and fluid representation. Perhaps a southern drawl would have suited the first person prose better. Overall this is a wonderful historic witness to the plight of my ancestors. The epilogue giving provenance to the accounts in the novel was fascinating and left me desirous of greater detail. This should be required reading in college and should be considered a prize possession in any private collection. Highly recommend.

  • Overall

Just hype

If one reads this book as a work of fiction, it's not bad. The writing is smooth, although I had to listen harder than I normally do to understand the colloquialisms. However, Gates presents a very weak case for this being written by a slave. It does not stand up to scientific inquiry. The interview with him at the end of the story makes him appear to want to believe so badly that this book was written by a slave, that he will embrace anything that supports this.

If you read this novel with the understanding that it probably wasn't written by a slave, I think you will enjoy it.

4 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jack
  • Raleigh, NC, USA
  • 05-31-03


Maybe, if the author had tried to establish a little credability for his/her very advanvced education a reader could belive that this book was written by a former slave. The author's use of grammer and vocabulary represents a very high level of education for the 1800s or an obvious knock-off by a modern day writer of the 19th century style. The protagonist only claims to have a few years of informal educaiton from a local shack dweller. The book's publisher includes information on why the book is real, but never touches on this issue.

Views into the slave's life is interesting, but the lie is insulting !

7 of 26 people found this review helpful