A most worthy addition to the literature surrounding American slavery, complementing Mary Kay Ricks’s Escape on the Pearl...



An excellent and absorbing “American and Canadian story” of an inaugural passage aboard the Underground Railroad.

Canadian archaeologist Frost has spent months and traveled thousands of miles along back roads to trace the lives of runaway slaves, a search that she affectingly describes in the early pages of her book, helped along by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders alike, guarded by a “chivalrous hitchhiker” as she combed through a forgotten graveyard beside a freeway off ramp, threatened by devotees of the Old South. The fruits of that hard work are evident in this book, which reconstructs the lives and circumstances of a light-skinned young man named Thornton Blackburn and his wife, Lucie, who, the day before Independence Day 1833, presented forged documents allowing them passage from slaveholding Kentucky into free Indiana and steamed away on a paddle-wheeler from Louisville, never to return. They eventually made their way to Toronto, where the ambitious and intelligent couple became middle-class householders, he a cab driver, she a moneylender. Theirs was a daring escape, to be sure, but Frost puts it in a larger context of resistance in many ways; by her account, slave resistance to the point of insurrection and guerrilla warfare was common, so much so that “wise slaveholders turned a blind eye to minor infractions” in order to quiet discontent. Having wrested some freedom of movement, slaves in cities along the Ohio River came into contact with free blacks, some of whom formed part of the network of abolitionists who served the underground movement to help runaway slaves reach freedom. Frost is adamant, however, that the heroes here are Thornton and Lucie, whose deed was forgotten but who “changed the very world in which they lived.”

A most worthy addition to the literature surrounding American slavery, complementing Mary Kay Ricks’s Escape on the Pearl and Mat Johnson’s The Great Negro Plot, both to be published in February 2007.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-374-16481-9

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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