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A Million Nightingales Paperback – May 8, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set in Southern plantations and bayous during the years just following the Louisiana Purchase, Straight's impressionistic character study effectively evokes the conflicted mélange of races, nationalities and cultures that defined the early 19th-century territory. The novel spans the life of Moinette, a "mulatresse," beginning with the events that wrench her from her mother at age 14, to her final days in her 40s. Moinette's first young mistress, Cephaline, exposes her to book learning, and Moinette struggles to negotiate the contradictions between the language of science and her mother's belief in traditional Senegalese spirits, a dichotomy that haunts her throughout her life. After Cephaline's premature death, Moinette, light-skinned and beautiful, is sold upriver and separated from her beloved mother. She repeatedly suffers sexual assault and must use her wits to protect herself, and later her son and daughters. While Straight (Highwire Moon) vividly depicts the danger and degradation black women faced, she also makes feminist comparisons between Moinette's enslavement and the situations of her wealthy white mistresses. However, the terms of Moinette's very sophisticated understanding of what's happening to her seem anachronistic, and the success she achieves, combined with the handy coincidences that lead to it, although tempered with tragedy, are too convenient to be entirely convincing. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Straight, whose sixth novel explores family bonds, slavery, and freedom in a dark period of American history, elicited almost universal praise. Moinette, an intelligent, moving narrative presence who navigates through—even exploits—slavery's constraints, charmed critics. Straight's evocative language also impressed them, as did the depth of her historical research—from boot blacking to gory scenes of murdered runaway slaves. (A glossary of Creole and French terms helps.) Only the Los Angeles Times felt that Straight's historical novel was, first and foremost, a polished literary exercise. (The critic suggested reading more "honest historical melodrama" like Gone With the Wind). Despite this minor criticism, A Million Nightingales is an affecting, powerful story.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (May 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140009559X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400095599
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan Straight was born in Riverside, California, where she still lives with her three daughters, nephew, extended family of over 200, and chickens. She has published seven novels - Aquaboogie (1990), I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots (1992), Blacker Than a Thousand Midnights (1994), The Gettin Place (1996), Highwire Moon (2001), A Million Nightingales (2006), and her latest, Take One Candle Light A Room (2010). Her short stories have been published in Zoetrope All-Story, McSweeneys, The Sun, Oxford American, O Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, and other places. Her story "The Golden Gopher," published in Los Angeles Noir, won the Edgar Award in 2007. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Harpers, The Believer, Reader's Digest, Family Circle and other magazines.

Her website is, featuring An American Family, with ties to ancestors from Switzerland, Africa, Canada, Oklahoma, Colorado, and California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If the language of pain is universal, Susan Straight is an inspired translator. In luminous prose, A Million Nightingales is a revelation of style and acuity of vision, the characters multidimensional, human, flawed, fragile and brave, the novel following the dangerous path of a beautiful fourteen-year old slave, Moinette, a petite mulatresse, through the treacherous world of early 19th century Louisiana. Like all slaves, Moinette's fate is, indeed in the hands of others. Recently acquired from the French, Louisiana is a strange mix of race and regulations, the French Slave Code of 1724 made more restrictive by the Americans in 1806. Innocent of such realities as a girl, Moinette is sheltered in the slave quarters, her mother instilling caution in her child, exercising her own, watching over her daughter at night: "Lie down make me too rested. Lie down mean I can't watch." Following her mother's example, Moinette's language is spare: "A hard knot blocked my throat. Like a pecan lodged there, where the words should come out." Yet these precious words bring Moinette comfort, as she turns them over in her mind like prayers.

Sold without warning, Moinette is carried to a plantation far from her mother, fearing she will never see her again. Their lives unbearable, some slaves dare to run, easily recovered with the aid of slave-catchers and rewards, dealt with severely: "Chiens de negre, chiens de renard. Dogs for blacks, dogs for fox." For Moinette, the years pass slowly, assaulted at every turn in a society that views her as property, her one chance at love lost because she cannot bear to leave her small son behind.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S. Kay Murphy VINE VOICE on September 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have not read a book this profoundly moving in a long, long time. I read books all the time--good books, bad books, mediocre books, books my friends have written--and with each book I read, my heart yearns for something that is as exquisitely written as A Million Nightingales. Every book Susan Straight has written has been thoughtfully, creatively rendered. I have read and loved all of them. But this one, by far, will be placed on my list of favorite books of all time. The words of the text sing like a lyrical psalm of outcry to god for the grief of children, for the grief of mothers, for the grief of souls separated by cruelty and greed. This book will touch the heart of anyone who believes that we must be reminded of true things, even if they are painful, so that we can move forward instead of repeating the past. A Million Nightingales is not a chronicle of hate, but rather an anthem of love.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on March 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In the early nineteenth century following the United States purchase of the Louisiana Territory from the French, Moinette a "mulatresse" is a personal slave to Cephaline while her beloved mother works in the master's home near New Orleans. Moinette's life seems good to her as her mistress treats her kindly and even shares books with her. However, when Cephaline suddenly dies, Moinette becomes expendable.

She is sold to another plantation owner. Ripped from her mother and a somewhat sheltered life, Moinette becomes a sexual plaything to her new owner. Abused and sexual assaulted and raped, Moinette eventually gives birth, but is once again ripped asunder from a loved one when she is sold and her child remains behind. Her dreams keep her going that one day she, her mom, and her child will be reunited.

This is a fascinating yet horrifying look at the de jure plight of a black female slave who must suffer sexual assault and humiliation. Adding to the overall feel of debasement is the comparisons to the lifestyles of her mistress. Though Moinette seems too enlightened about her place in society, readers will feel for her (impossible to fully empathize unless you lived the scene as being beneath the lowest rung of society) as historical readers get the rest of the story not included in the hasty books.

Harriet Klausner
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jim Duggins, Ph.D. on February 16, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"A Million Nightingales" is not just another story of slavery. Rather, Susan Straight paints a vivid picture of an individual, her religeous and folk beliefs, the plantation community with its extended caring family, and blood-related relationships. In this case, Moinette, a very light skinned slave, fathered by a white man she never knew, begins her tale at Azure, a sugar cane plantation in the bayou country of Louisiana. mamere, her supposed mother, a talented laundress and seamstress, teaches her daughter the skills of bleaching, dyeing and repairing clothing. Moinette is taken into the big house to serve as personal maid, first to the daughter of the owners and then to the aged mistress.

Through the eyes of Moinette, we see what it was like to be totally dependant upon the caprice of owners, good and bad. Through her, too, we hear a cry for freedom in interior monologue as poignant as any we've heard. Susan Straight brings an elegant use of language to this novel, a way with metaphor that is sheer poetry, lyrical in sound as well as image, a song both beautiful and terrifying.

An inordinately intelligent child, Moinette learns more than most men or women of that day simply by listening to her young mistress repeat her lessons and confirming what she hears by looking at the pages when it's safe for a black girl who can read end write. She must conceal what she has learned for severe punishments await a slave discovered to be literate. We learn, too, from her silence -- head down, never looking the master in the eyes, no answering back; indeed, a slave never begins a conversation, but simply waits to be called upon. To do more can be taken as a sign of defiance.
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