Friday, June 10, 2016

Chasing the North Star

Title:  Chasing the North Star
Author:  Robert Morgan
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2016. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1565126270 / 978-1565126275

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "He was called Jonah because he was born during a terrible storm and his mama said soon as she let go of him and put him ashore in this world of folly and time the thunder quieted and the wind laid."

Favorite Quote:  "Somehow men ... knew that the worst pain, the most lasting pain, was not to the body but to one's dignity. That's what their punishments were intended for, to destroy the last sliver of your dignity."

Jonah is born into slavery on a South Carolina plantation. He manages to learn how to read and write. He dreams of escape, and on the day of his eighteenth birthday, leaves his family and runs north. Along the way he meets Angel, a young woman born into slavery and raised to be a man's toy. She knows no other life and thus finds the use of her body to make her way as an acceptable path. Jonah is running, and for her own reasons, Angel follows.

This is a book for adults, but for the most part, it reads like a young adult book. It is very simply told, as in without much depth. Please note that is not a young adult book, and contains graphic descriptions of violence and "adult" encounters.

The story goes as follows.They run together. Jonah tries to leave her behind. Angel catches up. They get caught. They almost get caught. They run some more. So the story repeats to its conclusion.

Jonah is eighteen, and up to now, his life has been of a house slave. He often seems to lack common sense, and I am unsure how he actually manages the survive and make his way north. He is a runaway slave. He decides to, umm, "frolic" in the woods with a girl, and returns to find his money stolen. Really? Someone offers to show him their cellar and a new lock they've designed, and he goes. Really?

Angel is actually the more intriguing character. She too has lived her life as a house slave, working in the kitchen and as a sex slave for her master. Compared to Jonah, she seems to have much greater street smarts. She manages to find him several times after he abandons her, and she bails him out of a few dire situations.

The most intriguing part of her story is that she treats casually the use of her body to get out of a situation or to make a living. Embedded in there is the story that this her enslaved life has led her to this acceptance. Unfortunately, that is never developed in the book. It is presented at face value; she is this free-spirited young woman with a cavalier approach towards sex and the use of it. Unfortunately, the book also takes the approach of describing many of these adult encounters in detail, too much so for my taste.

The story is one of slaves but not really one of slavery. The book seems to lack the intensity and the emotional impact that a story such as this could have. Both Jonah and Angel have left their families and the only home they have ever known. Jonah has been whipped and beaten. Angel has been turned into a prostitute. All these elements and more are in this story, but their impact is not. As a reader, I find myself not really vested in Jonah and Angel's story, not as a story of two young people and not as a story of slavery.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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