Caribbean-born CondÉ (Segu, 1987; The Children of Segu, 1989, and see below) gives questionable life to Tituba, one of the...

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"I, TITUBA, BLACK WITCH OF SALEM"

Caribbean-born CondÉ (Segu, 1987; The Children of Segu, 1989, and see below) gives questionable life to Tituba, one of the accused and subsequently released witches of Salem, in a novel of some conflicting purpose. In a lengthy afterword that includes an interview with the author, CondÉ claims to be expressing her opinion about present-day America, where ""little has changed since the days of the Puritans""; to be writing a postmodern mock epic in which she parodies the heroic epic--and contemporary feminism; and to be giving Tituba ""a reality that was denied to her because of her color and her gender."" But these authorial claims and results seem frequently at odds in this story of Tituha, born on the island of Barbados to a slave raped by a British seaman. When her mother is hung for striking a white man, the child is raised by a local soothsayer who teaches her to summon the dead and heal with herbs. She marries handsome but weak John Indian; and when the couple is sold to the Reverend Samuel Parris, they accompany the Parris family to Salem. There, Tituba practices her healing, tries to help young Betsy Parris, but instead, caught up in the witch-hunt, is accused of trying to harm her. In prison, she meets Hester Prynne, and to defray the cost of her keep is sold to a Jewish widower, a victim of local prejudice, who, grateful for her bringing back his beloved dead, arranges for Tituba to return to Barbados. Back in her old cabin, she is killed when her lover, trying to organize a slave revolt, is betrayed. But Tituba goes on: ""Now that I've gone over to the invisible world I continue to heal and cure. But primarily I have dedicated myself to hardening men's hearts to fight."" The confusion of ends doesn't help a book that has too obviously sacrificed a moving and dramatic story to agenda and fashion. Tituba deserves better.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Univ. Press of Virginia

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992