Criminally Entertaining.

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  • Source:
    Publishers Weekly. 10/15/2018, Vol. 265 Issue 42, p38-49. 7p. 16 Color Photographs, 2 Black and White Photographs.


Booklist Reviews 2018 May #2

*Starred Review* In 1931, years before the fiction and folklore that ultimately would make her famous, Hurston completed a nonfiction account of a man who was one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade. Kossola (Cudjo Lewis) was captured at age 19, lived for five-and-a-half years as a slave, and later helped found Africatown, renamed Plateau, Alabama. As an ethnographer, Hurston came to meet and interview the 86-year-old Kossola but understood the value of his first-person narrative as folk art, preserving stories and traditions conveyed by those who actually lived them. Like a griot and in his own vernacular, Kossola recalled his life in Africa, the wars that resulted in enslavement, the Middle Passage journey to America, and life as a slave. He also spoke of his Christian faith and memories of the spiritual traditions of his homeland and his lifelong yearning for Africa. The introduction provides context for Hurston's struggle with the conventions of ethnography and her own appreciation for the opportunity to learn about the slave trade from the perspective of the enslaved. This is a fascinating look at the journey of one man, reflective of the African American experience. It also attests to Hurston's development as an author and ethnographer, and stands as a work of profound relevance, its illumination of slavery, freedom, and race as timely as ever. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This newly published work by trailblazer Hurston, with a foreword by Alice Walker, will garner tremendous attention. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

LJ Reviews 2017 December #1

In 1927, iconic African American writer Hurston interviewed 95-year-old Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade, smuggled from Africa on the final slave ship to arrive in the United States. Astonishingly, this account of their conversations has never before been published. With a 150,000-copy first printing.

Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

LJ Reviews 2018 May #1

Novelist Zora Neale Hurston drafted Barracoon in 1931, but the work has never been published until now. At once a work of anthropology, folklore, and reminiscence, the book relates the interviews Hurston conducted in 1927 with Cudjo Lewis (1840–1935), the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade. Much of Lewis's retelling focuses on growing up in a Yoruba village in West Africa, his capture by slavers and transport on the Middle Passage in 1860, and life after emancipation in helping to build Africatown, a refuge former slaves established near Mobile, AL. Lewis describes his brutal enslavement and the racism that followed his emancipation. Hurston demonstrates interest, even shock, at what Lewis chooses to tell her. This is a rare account of the full experience of enslavement from capture to "freedom," and a revealing look at Hurston's maturing as a folklorist sensitive to dialect and interviewees' authority over their own stories. This first edition of Barracoon gains from author Deborah Plant's introduction, which places Hurston's work in historical and literary context and addresses her folkloristic approach to frame Lewis's interviews. VERDICT A brief book that tells a significant story; for fans of Hurston and African American and world history. [See Prepub Alert, 11/12/17.]—Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia

Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

PW Reviews 2018 March #4

This previously unpublished manuscript from Hurston (1891–1960) is a remarkable account of the life of Kossola, also known as Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the last American slave ship. Before writing Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston was working as an anthropologist in 1927 when she traveled to Plateau, Ala., to interview 86-year-old Kossola. Returning to Plateau in 1931 for three months, Hurston documented Kossola's life story in this short manuscript, whose brevity disguises its richness and depth. Consisting primarily of transcriptions from their conversations, Kossola recalls his capture in Africa, the Middle Passage, his five and a half years as a slave, the Civil War, the struggles following Emancipation, and the terrors after Reconstruction (his son was killed by a deputy sheriff in 1902). Kossola was 19 years old when he was sold into slavery; thus, his accounts of folkways and traditions (e.g., the decapitated heads hanging from the belts of the Dahomian warriors who captured him) offer more graphic and personal immediacy than other surviving narratives of the slave trade, like those of Equiano or Gronniosaw, who were small children at the time of their capture. While Hurston acknowledges that her account "makes no attempt to be a scientific document, but on the whole is rather accurate," Kossola's story—in the vernacular of his own words—is an invaluable addition to American social, cultural, and political history. (May)

Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.