Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson

Title:  The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson
Author:  Nancy Peacock
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2013 (original). 336 pages.
ISBN:  1501116355 / 978-1501116353

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I have been to hangings before, but never my own."

Favorite Quote:  "This is what white people always told us. Work and behave and nothing bad would befall us, as though being a slave was not evidence of something bad having already befallen us."

Persimmon Wilson and Chloe meet because they are bought by the Joseph Wilson in the same slave auction. Persimmon is a slave but has had the opportunity to learn to read and write, a fact he hides well for it could be a death sentence. He is strong and is put to work in the cane plantations. Chloe is lovely and light-skinned, an unfortunate combination for a slave. She is deemed a "fancy," which translates essentially to being a sex slave for her master. That is the only life she has ever known. So begins a love that will last a life time and will be the anchor for Persimmon Wilson, wherever life leads him.

This book is almost like reading two separate books in terms of the history it confronts. The first half is Persimmon's life as a slave in Louisiana towards the end of the Civil War. It describes all the atrocities of slavery, atrocities so numerous and so horrific that it would be impossible to enumerate them here. At the same time, it describes the love and friendship that still manages to flourish even in such circumstances. Unlike a lot of the books about slavery that I have read, this one is not set in the cotton plantations but rather the sugar cane plantations of Louisiana. The book also describes the back-breaking work that goes into planting and harvesting this crop and the work on the Louisiana levees to hold back the water.

The transition in the book comes because of the coming end of the Civil War. The white plantation owners desert their plantations, take what they can, and leave Louisiana for Texas. The "property" they take includes the slaves they own. In this chaos, some slaves escape; some perish; and some are forced to Texas with their masters.

The second half of the book moves to Texas and the lives of the Comanche First Nation at the time of the Red River War between the First Nations and the United States army. Persimmon Wilson evolves into Kweepoonaduh Tuhmoo. This half of the book describes the atrocities of war on both sides and the love and friendship that still exists in this harsh life. In addition, this book delves into the plight of the First Nations and the destruction of their way of life, from the reservations to the outright attacks to the slaughter of the buffalo herds.

Reading The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson is an immersive experience. The book begins at the end as Persimmon Wilson awaits his hanging. His last request is pen and paper to write his story. This beginning and the first person-narrative creates a deeply personal memoir-like feel; I walk through Persimmon Wilson's life with him. Through his eyes, the book also brings to life the history it is set in. Again, the first person narration means that the reader "lives" the history through Persimmon's eyes with all of his perspective, experiences, and emotions. Through his eyes, his strong unshakable love story also comes through; I want to believe in a love that transcends all boundaries of place, time, and logic.

Mind you, none of this book is comfortable to read for it describes some horrible acts and uses language that is most definitely not acceptable today. Yet, as a memoir-like tale set in that time and place, the story can be told no other way. Just be prepared to be uncomfortable.

So I leave you to think about this book in the Persimmon's own words ... "If I learned anything at all from living with the Comanche, it is this:  words don't mean a thing unless they're true. So you do what you will, burn my words if you want to, set them loose into the air. Nothing would make me happier than all of you having to breathe this story, this truth of what I am about to tell you. Nothing can kill truth, not even white men."

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

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