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The Bondwoman's Narrative.

Hannah Crafts. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed. 2002. Read by Anna Deavere Smith 6 tapes. 9 hrs. Time Warner Audio. 1-58621-272-9. $32.98. Cardboard, plastic; plot, author, reader notes. SA

A wide range of slave experiences is open to view in this unique novel, told as a first-person narrative and purportedly written in the 1850s. Hannah, who uses her light skin to advantage, receives some education, including enlightened discussion, during numerous visits with a sympathetic older couple who live near the plantation. As she is shunted from master to master, one glimpses the life of the personal servant and confidante, the house slave in settings poor and aristocratic, the field worker, and finally the runaway who successfully makes it to the North and freedom. Gothic elements entertain, and Crafts draws a chilling characterization of a trader who coldly sells "passed' persons back into slavery.

Gates purchased this novel in manuscript at a Swan Galleries, New York auction of African Americana. He and other scholars note internal evidence such as knowledge of the Virginia and North Carolina escape routes. They assure readers that a white writer would never have assumed black identity in the slave period. This may be the first novel ever written by a slave and possibly "by any black woman at all,"

The reader's warmth and reproduction of slave speech carry the story well. For general listeners and students of African American slavery. Edna M. Boardman, Bismark, ND
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Author:Boardman, Edna M.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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