Uncle Tom contemporary

Blake: or; The Huts of America by Martin R. Delany

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommended during the past Black History Month as an answer to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written at the same time by a Black author. (And since I have never read UTC, I’ll be reading it too.) While I’ve heard the generalization and read a couple examples that slaves weren’t passively waiting to be freed, this novel of the late 1850s reinforces that point all the way through. Henry Holland (becomes Henry Blake about 2/3 into the novel) is working on his own freedom and that of others all the way through.

The novel has two narratives, the first being Henry’s travels through mostly southern states with a plan (we are never told the plan) and his encouraging resourcefulness and resistance. The second tells Henry’s experiences in Cuba. The first gets tedious, but it is worth continuing. For the second, I was glad to have read Cuba: An American History first, though it isn’t essential to understanding what is happening. There are endnotes most of which provide historical analogues and identify characters with historical figures; after the history they indicate sources. I found myself checking them more often than I sometimes do, and they were useful. Though the two narratives are connected, they don’t seem integrated into a whole. Some scenes seem to be there only to illustrate some aspect of slavery, and some conversations to illustrate ideas. When questioned, Henry convinces all too easily. The editor says, “[Delany’s] only fictional effort marks the artistic epitome of a social and political position–that is, the creative offering of an activist rather than the political expressions of an artist” (xiii). Still it is important reading.

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Filed under books, social issues

2 responses to “Uncle Tom contemporary

  1. All of which raises a question I’ve been working on. I will email when I get to my computer. Thanks for the review.

  2. Susan Nixon

    Interesting. I read UTC in high school, not as an assignment, but feeling it would be significant reading. I never heard of this book.

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