Synopses & Reviews
Born a slave, survived a free bondwoman, reborn an outspoken abolitionist, Sojourner Truth died a heroine of graceful proportions. But the story of her inner struggles is as powerful and provocative as her accomplishments and could be captured only in fiction. This emotionally searing novel beautifully infuses the historical atrocities of the 1800s with psychological speculation of who Sojourner Truth really was, beyond her social and political persona. Reminiscent of White Oleander, Bastard Out of Carolina
, and Their Eyes Were Watching God
, Jacqueline Sheehan's book tells the story of Sojourner Truth as it has never been told before.
"I rode to earth on the backside of a comet." So begins Jacqueline Sheehan's marvelous debut novel, based largely on the early life of Sojourner Truth. Born at the turn of the nineteenth century to slaves of a New York State Dutch gentleman farmer, young Isabella was sold off at the age of nine to a succession of owners -- some cruel, some indifferent, all assuming that she, as a colored girl, would never feel or think as anything but a child. On the contrary, Isabella has dreams and fears and a deeply felt faith that somehow sees her through the indignities and beatings she must tolerate.
Once Isabella achieves her hard-won freedom, however, the path she walks as Sojourner Truth is riddled with obstacles: her son, still a slave, is sold south into the harshest of brutalities, only to be saved by her relentless efforts to wrest him back. Her young daughters must likewise remain enslaved until they come of age, their family scattered and adrift. Her newfound religion leads her into a cultish environment of frauds and charlatans, and she narrowly avoids being accused of the murder of a dearly loved friend. Ultimately, she triumphs against the most enormous of odds and reunites her family under one roof, only to be called by God to speak out against slavery and for women's rights as long as she draws breath.
In a feat of literary ventriloquism, Jacqueline Sheehan puts the story back in Sojourner's voice, lending the telling a naked, crystalline quality that transports the reader to a time when survival could mean sacrificing little pieces of one's soul. Truth is a testament to one woman's strength, a powerful lesson in courage.
As compelling as The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman or Bastard out of Carolina, this richly imagined first novel tells the story of a young girl who miraculously survives the crush of slavery to become Sojourner Truth, the voice of freedom. I rode to earth on the backside of a comet. So begins this haunting story of the early life of Sojourner Truth--a woman born into slavery who will come to sit with presidents and set the world on fire with her abolitionist oratory. This is not a conventional tale of resilience and triumph, but a searching, lyrical monologue of confusion, horror, fury, and radiant faith. Isabella grows up in the cellar of a rich New York State family, which puts her on the auction block at age nine. Torn from her parents and brother, she becomes the property of one brutal master after another. When the first won't let her speak in her native Dutch, she begins the plainspoken conversations with God that will sustain her through the long and agonizing struggle ahead. Emancipation does not mark the end of her trials: she wages a fierce legal battle to rescue her young son Peter, ripped from her arms and sold to an Alabama plantation owner, and then keeps a constant vigil for Black Birds, kidnappers of free blacks and fugitive slaves who roam the streets of New York. In the course of this extraordinary novel, Isabella flowers into Sojourner Truth--lifelong crusader for slave reparations and women's rights. Written with roughhewn eloquence and uncanny historical accuracy, Sojourner Truth is an exceptional feat of literary ventriloquism. Jacqueline Sheehan not only brings this courageous American heroine to vivid life, she tells an even larger story: of a person whotransforms a wrenching individual trauma into a universal testament of hope.
About the Author
is a practicing psychologist, essayist, and short story writer. She lives in Florence, Massachusetts. Truth
is her first novel.