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The Bondwoman's Narrative
By Hannah Crafts
Read by Anna Deavere Smith

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The Bondwoman's Narrative

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The Bondwoman's Narrative
By Hannah Crafts
Read by Anna Deavere Smith
Commentary by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Time Warner AudioBooks, (2002)
An Unabridged Audio Recording on 6 Cassettes
ISBN: 1-58621-272-9
Genre: Fictional Autobiography, African-American Studies

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - April 26, 2002

The Bondwoman's Narrative is an intriguing narrative that chronicles Hannah Crafts life as a slave, and her escape to freedom. This fictionalized account was written in 1850, and, according to Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of Harvard's Afro-American studies Department, it may be the first novel "...written by a female fugitive slave, and is perhaps, the first novel ever written by any black woman at all."

Whether this is the first, or thirty-first novel, is a fact that will be of more interest to historians than to the general reader. What is important to the general reader is that this is a fascinating, well-written tale. This story is greatly enhanced by the inclusion of Professor Gates commentary on the book. It also concludes with an interview given by Professor Gates in which he talks in more detail about the book. This commentary includes information on how he came to discover this thrilling work, why many feel that this book is authentic, and Gates's own efforts to make this book available for others to read.

This novel is primarily about 'passing', and offers a compelling look at life as a slave. It is also an amazing adventure tale that follows Crafts as she makes her way to freedom. It also has a bit of a soap-opera quality, as we discover that Crafts's mistress may not be as 'white' as she makes herself out to be. A fascinating tale, it is also a sad tale. Many of the events that Crafts chronicles are horrific and a graphic reminder of one aspect of man's inhumanity.

This story is read by Anna Deavere Smith, a well-rounded actress who has appeared on film and TV. Her reading is filled with emotion, and she seems to have put herself firmly in the shoes of the character she is dramatizing. This gives the reading a realistic quality that greatly enhances the narrative.

Is this the best book ever written? No, but it is one of the most interesting books that I've come across in a long while. It is also compelling for its uniqueness and its historical merit. Also compelling is the mystery, created by the passage of time, surrounding who really wrote The Bondwoman's Narrative. And, the ultimate question, is it a work of fiction, or of fact?

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