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The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Good Lord Bird (2013)

by James McBride

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1,1528210,646 (3.89)155
  1. 10
    Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus (novelcommentary)
    novelcommentary: Similar style and time period
  2. 21
    The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (starfishian)
    starfishian: Another historical romp. Fun to read.
  3. 00
    Flashman and the Angel of the Lord by George MacDonald Fraser (Lirmac)
    Lirmac: Another fictionalised account of John Brown and Harper's Ferry.

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Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
Fleeing his violent master at the side of abolitionist John Brown at the height of the slavery debate in Kansas Territory, Henry pretends to be a girl to hide his identity throughout the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.
  JRCornell | Dec 8, 2018 |
Quand le destin d'un enfant croise celui de l'Amérique ....
  ACParakou | May 30, 2018 |
"Nobody asked the Negro what he thunk about the whole business, by the way, nor the Indian, even though most of the squabbling was about them on the outside, for at bottom the whole business was about land and money, something nobody who was squabbling seemed to ever get enough of."

Ah, John Brown. I have been to Harper's Ferry. I have sung along to the old hymn "John Brown's Body Lies A'Mouldering In The Grave". But until this incredible book and its witty and wise narrator, John Brown: I never knew ye.

This National Book Award winner is a classic that takes its place with such fictional witnesses to history as Jack Crabbe (Little Big Man), Mattie Ross (True Grit), and Octavian Nothing. Onion is an African American teenager whose father is killed during an early Kansas raid by the anti-slaver John Brown. Brown decides that Onion is to be a girl child, and he brings him/her along for luck during his God-assigned mission to eliminate slavery.

Onion has quite a bit of growing to do, and how sincerely and hilariously s/he chronicles the giant personality who basically accomplished his goal by bringing on the Civil War. Along the way, Brown meets with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman ("The General") and Onion learns to put aside his obsession with saving his own hide. The author's portrait of John Brown is indelible - such a mass of contradictions - obsessed with God and prayer and righteousness and completely unwilling to move from his anointed path, the very definition of stubbornness. And the novel just gleams with humor and wisdom. Highly recommended - my only criticism is leaving Onion at the end without knowing his future. Onion alone could carry a great sequel. ( )
  froxgirl | Jan 15, 2018 |
Book on CD performed by Michael Boatman.

McBride looks at John Brown and Harpers Ferry through the lens of a “freed” slave, Henry Shackleford (known as Onion). Onion narrates the tale, taking the readers from Kansas Territory in 1856 to the events at Harpers Ferry (then in the Commonwealth of Virginia), when abolitionists led by Brown raided the armory in 1859. This was a pivotal event in the onset of the Civil War.

Onion is a fictional character, but there are many real historical figures in the book. In addition to John Brown and his sons, Harriet Tubman, Col Lewis Washington and Frederick Douglass make appearances. And while McBride may have taken liberties in describing “The Railman” and his involvement, it is true that the first casualty of the raid on the arsenal was a free black man.

What brings the history to life, though is the slave boy, Henry “Onion” Shackleford. A chance encounter with Brown in his father’s barbershop goes awry, and in the confusion, he is taken on by Brown, who mistakenly believes the child is a girl. Brown considers Onion a good luck charm, and he cares for the child. Onion continues to live as a girl for the next three years, sometimes being in the direct care of Brown, and sometimes being separated from him. Always, Henry is a marvelous observer of what is going on around him. He doesn’t always understand the ramifications of what he learns, but he does his best.

He believes that Brown is a fanatic and possibly crazy, but he also recognizes Brown’s genuine belief that slavery is wrong and that it should be abolished. He follows Brown’s rag tag “army” helping where he can, but mostly trying to stay out of the way. Related by Onion, many of the events are just plain hilarious; a surprise in a book about slavery. I’ve seen reviews that compare McBride to Mark Twain, and I guess I see that here – an adventure tale that is about a serious event / issue, but that includes room for humor.

I love McBride’s writing, but this seemed ungainly in places. I kept waiting for the “action” to happen, especially in the period when Henry was separated from Brown. And I thought some of the proselytizing that Brown engages in was unnecessary, though I admit that it helps to paint the picture of this MAN-WITH-A-CAUSE.

Michael Boatman does a superb job voicing the audiobook. He is able to give unique voices to the many characters, and I particularly like the way he voiced John Brown and Henry. McBride uses vernacular dialect of the time, and listening to that is (in my humble opinion) a bit easier than reading it on the page. ( )
1 vote BookConcierge | Dec 4, 2017 |
The Good Lord Bird - James McBride
Audio performance by Michael Boatman
4 stars

”Whatever he believed, he believed. It didn’t matter to him whether it was really true or not. He just changed the truth till it fit him. He was a real white man.”

This is a story that grew on me slowly. It is told from the first person perspective of the young slave boy, Henry Shackleford. Henry is the fictional only survivor of John Brown’s historic raid on Harper’s Ferry. He becomes attached to Brown’s abolitionist vigilante troop when his father is accidentally killed during a fight between anti and pro-slavery factions in Kansas territory. He is forcibly ‘freed’ (or kidnapped) by John Brown and through a ridiculous misunderstanding, begins his life as a young girl. Brown is a man who believes in good luck charms. He take on Henry(etta) as one of his lucky charms. I suspect there was meant to be some slapstick humor in the cross dressing aspects of the story, but they always fell a bit flat for me. Henry’s voice was just too serious to be silly.

For most of this book, I wasn’t sure just where James Mcbride was directing his satire. Henry is a child who just wants to go back to the the only home he has, even if he remains a slave. After all, he was well fed and everyone knew he was boy. John Brown is portrayed as an insane and dangerous religious fanatic. Henry bumbles along with and without John Brown, looking out for his own best interests as best he can. Sometimes he’s helpful, but mostly he endangers others through his own ignorance. Ironically, not much of a good luck charm. Towards the end, although he never loses his belief that ‘the old man’ is insane, Henry comes to respect Brown for his willing sacrifice. At least, I think he did. This book had a lot of loose ends for me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I keep thinking about it.

“It occurred to me then that you is everything you are in this life at every moment. And that includes loving somebody. If you can't be your own self, how can you love somebody? How can you be free? That pressed on my heart like a vise right then. Just mashed me down.” ( )
1 vote msjudy | Dec 1, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
There is something deeply humane in this, something akin to the work of Homer or Mark Twain. We tend to forget that history is all too often made by fallible beings who make mistakes, calculate badly, love blindly and want too much. We forget, too, that real life presents utterly human heroes with far more contingency than history books can offer. McBride’s Little Onion — a sparkling narrator who is sure to win new life on the silver screen — leads us through history’s dark corridors, suggesting that “truths” may actually lie elsewhere.
added by zhejw | editWashington Post, Marie Arana (Aug 19, 2013)
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Rare Negro Papers Found
by A.J. Watson
Wilmington, Del. (AP)
June 14, 1966
A fire that destroyed the city's oldest Negro church has led to the discovery of a wild slave narrative that highlights a little-known era of American history

Chapter 1:
I was born a colored man and don't you forget it.
"Being a Negro’s a lie, anyway. Nobody sees the real you. Nobody knows who you are inside. You just judged on what you are on the outside whatever your color. Mulatto, colored, black, it don’t matter. You just a Negro to the world."
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Fettered in bondage
an onion in a red frock
files from Harpers Ferry to freedom.

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Fleeing his violent master at the side of abolitionist John Brown at the height of the slavery debate in mid-nineteenth-century Kansas Territory, Henry pretends to be a girl to hide his identity throughout the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.

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