CHARLESTON — Two book reviews were presented at the Feb. 19 Zoom meeting of the Charleston Reading Circle.
Chris McCormick reviewed “At Home: A Short History of Private Life” by Bill Bryson, published in 2010. Bryson has written 19 books of travel, memoir, science and other nonfiction. His writings are frequently described as funny, witty, and genial, as well as well-researched. In this book, the author wanders from room to room through his Victorian parsonage in England to “write a history of the world without leaving home.”
Each room elicits many wide-ranging topics. For example, the chapter about the Drawing Room includes in-depth historical discussions of the dramatic increase in land wealth following the adoption of Dutch crop rotation, the emergence of a middle class and the resulting town houses which needed comfortable furnishings, including upholstered chairs, curtains, and carpets. And this is only one of 18 chapters in the book! The comfy conversational tone allows the reader to sit back and enjoy the ride through a 400-page history of private life.
“Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo” was reviewed by Maria Ficher-Wandling. The book is authored by Zora Neale Hurston and edited by Deborah G. Plank.
The book tells the true story of 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis, a survivor of the Clotilde, the last known slaver to have made the transatlantic journey. It is one of a small number of narratives of slaves who left testimonies of their lives in Africa before their capture and deportation to the Americas, and of their survival of the Middle Passage.
Cudjo was 19 years old in 1859, growing up peacefully in Banté, a Yoruban tribe village in Benin, when his village was attacked by the fierce army of the King of Dahomey. He was captured to be sold to the slave trade. Cudjo and 129 others were purchased by Bill Foster from Mobile, Alabama, Captain of the Clotilde. Once they reached the Alabama shores, they were taken under cover of darkness through backwater channels to a plantation where they were divided among the Meaher brothers and Foster. Others were sold.
At the end of the Civil War, Cudjo and his fellow countrymen were freed. They organized as a community and worked hard to save money to purchase land. They built homes and founded Africa Town. Eventually, Cudjo married and had six children. Tragically, all six children and his wife died. He was left alone in a strange land, lonely and longing to return to Africa.
The Reading Circle will hold its next meeting on Friday March 5. For more information, contact Judy James, (217) 345-4855.