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A Million Nightingalesby Susan Straight
Synopses & Reviews
In late summer, I collected the moss with the same long poles we used to knock down the pecans in fall. I waved the pole around in the gray tangles and pulled them down from the oaks on the land beside the house, not far from the clearing where we washed and sewed.
I couldn't take the moss from the two oaks in front of the house, where the windows faced the river, because Madame Bordelon liked to look at that moss. It was a decoration. She watched me from the window of her bedroom. Everything on the front land at Azure was Madame's, for decoration. Everything in the backlands was Msieu Bordelon's, for money.
And me-she stared at me all the time now. She stared at my hair, though she couldn’t see it. My hair was wrapped under the black tignon my mother had made last year for me, when I turned thirteen. I hated the weight on my skull. My hair was to be hidden, my mother said. That was the law.
The cloth at my forehead felt like a bandage. Like it was holding in my brain. A brain floated in Doctor Tom's jar, in the room where he always stayed when he came to treat Grandmèegrave;re Bordelon, for her fatness, and where he stayed now to treat Céeacute;phaline, for her face. The brain was like a huge, wrinkled, pale pecan. One that didn't break in half. Swimming in liquid.
When I came for his laundry, he sat at the desk and the brain sat on the shelf, with the other jars. He said, You can hold it.
The glass was heavy in my hands, and the brain shivered in the silvery water.
I bought that brain in 1808, yes, I did, and it's been two years in the jar after spending several years inside a skull. You seem unafraid to hold it or examine it, Moinette, he said in English. He was from London, and his words made his thin lips rise and twist differently from Creoles. Your lack of fear would indicate that your own brain is working well. Then he returned to his papers, and I took his dirty clothes away.
How could brains be different? I measured heads the same way Mamèegrave;re had taught me to measure a handful of fat to throw in the pot for soap, cupping my palm; the heavy handful had to reach the second bend on my fingers. The other side of knuckles-the little pad of skin like oval seed pearls when a person held out a hand to get something. I stared at my palms so long, clenching and straightening them, that Mamèegrave;re frowned and told me to stir the soap.
At the edge of the canefield when the cutters were resting, I hid myself in the tall stalks and fit my bent fingers over their heads. The grown people's heads wore hats and tignons, but the skulls were nearly all the same size under my curved hand. It was not exact, though. I made a loop of wire from a scrap and measured Michel's head when he was in the cane. He was a grown man, same as Msieu Bordelon.
The cutters held very still when they rested. Their backs were against the wagon wheels and the trees.
When I took clean laundry to the house, I stood near the dining room and quickly measured those heads at the table. The same loop for Msieu's head, the only time he didn't wear his hat, while he was eating.
All our heads were the same size according to our age and sex: mine and Céeacute;phaline’s, Mamèegrave;re and Madame's, the men cutting cane a
When she is sold away from her family, Moinette, the daughter of an African mother and an unknown white father, begins to prepare herself for an escape to freedom, journeying through a world of brutality, sexual violence, loss, and struggle to find her way out of the bonds of slavery to discover the true meaning of freedom, in a novel set in early nineteenth-century Louisiana. Reprint.
Susan Straight is the author of five previous novels, including the best-selling I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots and Highwire Moon, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the California Book Award. She is a regular commentator for NPR, and her fiction and essays have appeared in Harper's Magazine, The New York Times, The Nation, Salon, Zoetrope, McSweeney's, and Best American Short Stories, among many other publications. She has received a Lannan Foundation Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in Riverside, California, with her three daughters.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Susan Straight's novels include I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots, Blacker Than a Thousand Midnights, The Gettin Place and Highwire Moon, which was a finalist for The National Book Award. Her essays have appeared in Harper's, Salon.com, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, and on NPR's All Things Considered, as well as in women's magazines such as Real Simple and Family Circle. Her short stories have appeared in McSweeney's and Zoetrope, among other publications. Among her honors and awards are the California Book Prize, a Lannan Foundation Award, A Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize and a Best American Short Story Award. Straight was born in Riverside and lives there with her three daughters.
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