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The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
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The Good Lord Bird (2013)

by James McBride

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941729,255 (3.9)105
  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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» See also 105 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
3.5
I liked this book about the abolitionist John Brown's last years and the raid on Harper's Ferry. It's told through the eyes of a young black boy, nicknamed Onion, who Brown "liberates" and mistakes for a girl. Onion goes along with this case of mistaken identity and becomes a good luck charm and mascot to the 'old man'.
I don't know if I understand why it was awarded the National Book Award in 2013, because it was extremely slow and draggy in spots, but does a reader ever know why certain books are given prizes and others are destined to languish in the sale bin?
But it has encouraged me to revisit that moment in history and do further research, which probably warrants a prize!!
( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
According to legend, in the mid-19th century there was a bird so beautiful that when people saw it they would exclaim “Good Lord!” The bird was also so rare that its feathers were prized as good luck charms. One person enthralled with the “Good Lord Bird” was John Brown, the abolitionist who by varying accounts was a brave visionary, a religious fanatic, a superstitious zealot, a murderous traitor, or just plain crazy. The Good Lord Bird tells the story of the Brown’s raid on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry that led to the start of the American Civil War, as seen through the eyes of Henry “Little Onion” Shackleford, a runaway slave who accompanied Brown on his journey. Every school kid in the United States of a certain age was taught that Abraham Lincoln ended slavery, but as James McBride reminds us in this book, without the irrational, ill-conceived efforts of John Brown, that watershed event in history might have occurred many years later than it did.

There is a lot to like about The Good Lord Bird. For one thing, the author has brought a fresh take on an important person in our collective past, beyond what readers can find in other recent efforts to tell the same story (e.g., Russell Banks’ Cloudsplitter). Also, it is often a very funny account that is cleverly written in a vernacular unique to the time and place. Still, for all that was so engaging about the novel, I had a mixed reaction to reading it. Perhaps the most glaring flaw in the narrative was the framing device wherein Onion successfully pretended to be a girl for four years despite being in the constant company of Brown and his men. This was simply an implausible situation that was conveniently overlooked for considerable stretches in the story. Further, I found McBride’s frequent use of foreshadowing to be distracting; he would often end chapters with summary sentences along the lines of “That was a decision he would come to regret” or “That was the last time I would ever see him”. So, while this is a book that definitely merits a recommendation, it does have its limitations despite the awards it has won. ( )
  browner56 | Oct 28, 2016 |
I am so very happy with The Good Lord Bird. I wasn't drawn to reading this book previously but it caught my eye this year as a possible book to read because it was a ToB (Tournament of Books) winner in 2014 and I had decided to read the winners and it also was published 2013 so it fit the PBT for September. It is also a National Book Award winner in 2013. I read Cloudsplitter earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised to find this book was also about John Brown and Harper's Ferry. Where Cloudsplitter was told from John Brown's son, Owen's POV, this book was told from a slave's, Henry or Onion's POV. Having read it following Cloudsplitter which was not entirely an accurate historical fiction, I found this book to have a lot of similarities. I listened to the audio (from overdrive) and it was very well done. There was some great quotes, this was one of my favorites
"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."
I think this work is significant in that it is a retelling of an important time in history and racism in the United States told by a black man. I liked the dialect and the narrator did a good job. The author's work has been compared to Mark Twain. I am happy I read it so close to having read Cloudsplitter by Russel Bank. I found the plot to be engaging and felt it held together. I suspect it wasn't totally accurate to the time but neither was Cloudsplitter. The characters were great, the settings include Kansas, the east (Frederick Douglas), Canada (Harriet Tubman) and of course Harper's Ferry which included a very brief mention of General Lee. Because I am comparing this book to Cloudsplitter, they very much were in agreement with each other in how the story was told. I listened to the book, the narration was good, I can not comment on how readable it was but it had the feel of being very readable. The title was significant and refers to the Ivory Billed (probably extinct now) Woodpecker that a person would exclaim "Good Lord" if they ever got a chance to see it. The cover is a little busy but it does feature a hat with the feather from the Good Lord Bird. The author's goal in writing the story of Harper's Ferry and John Brown was to do so differently and he did it with humor. I would give this book 5 stars. I think it was excellent. ( )
1 vote Kristelh | Sep 16, 2016 |
I've read 3 books about John Brown and this was the best. ( )
  pattiphelps | Aug 26, 2016 |
Such a wonderful book! Best book I've read in a long time. ( )
  sandsjd | Jun 3, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 74 (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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Dedication
FOR MA AND JADE,
WHO LOVED A GOOD WHOPPER
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Prologue: 
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.
Quotations
"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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Haiku summary
Fettered in bondage
an onion in a red frock
files from Harpers Ferry to freedom.
(Bebedee)

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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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