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The Good Lord Bird: A Novel Hardcover – August 20, 2013
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Winner of the Morning News Tournament of Books
"A magnificent new novel by the best-selling author James McBride…a brilliant romp of a novel…McBride—with the same flair for historical mining, musicality of voice and outsize characterization that made his memoir, The Color of Water, an instant classic—pulls off his portrait masterfully, like a modern-day Mark Twain: evoking sheer glee with every page." —The New York Times Book Review
"You may know the story of John Brown's unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry, but author James McBride's retelling of the events leading up to it is so imaginative, you'll race to the finish."—NPR
"A boisterous, highly entertaining, altogether original novel by James McBride...There is something deeply humane in this [story], something akin to the work of Homer or Mark Twain. McBride’s Little Onion — a sparkling narrator who is sure to win new life on the silver screen — leads us through history’s dark corridors, suggesting that “truths” may actually lie elsewhere." —The Washington Post
“Wildly entertaining…From the author of The Color of Water, a rollicking saga about one of America’s earliest abolitionists.” —People (4 star review; “People Pick”)
"McBride delivers another tour de force...A fascinating mix of history and mystery."—Essence
"A story that's difficult to put down."—Ebony
“Outrageously entertaining…The Good Lord Bird rockets toward its inevitable and, yes, knee-slapping conclusion. Never has mayhem been this much of a humdinger.” —USA Today
“An impressively deep comedy...It’s a view of the antebellum world refreshingly free of pieties, and full of questions about the capacity of human beings to act on their sense of right and wrong, about why the world is the way it is, and what any one of us can do to make it better. It’s the rare comic novel that delves so deep.” —Salon
“Both breezy and sharp, a rare combination outside of Twain. You should absolutely read it.” —Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine
"A superbly written novel....McBride...transcends history and makes it come alive."—The Chicago Tribune
"Absorbing and darkly funny."—The San Francisco Chronicle
"An irrepressibly fun read."—The Seattle Times
“As in Huck Finn, this novel comes in through the back door of history, telling you something you might not know by putting you in the heat of the action…It is a compelling story and an important one, told in a voice that is fresh and apolitical.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Exhilarating… McBride makes what could be a confusing tale clear and creates suspense even in a story whose end is well-known. Beneath the humor lies sympathy for Brown and all those whose lives were caught up with his.” —Columbus Dispatch
"Outrageously funny, sad... McBride puts a human face on a nation at its most divided."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A sizzling historical novel that is an evocative escapade and a provocative pastiche of Larry McMurtry’s salty western satires and William Styron’s seminal insurrection masterpiece, The Confessions of Nat Turner.” —Booklist (starred review)
“[The Good Lord Bird] recalls the broad humor and irony of Mark Twain.” —Bloomberg News
"The Good Lord Bird is just so brilliant. It had everything I want in a novel and left me feeling both transported and transformed—the last book I remember loving so thoroughly was The Orphan Master’s Son."—John Green (in judging the Morning News Tournament of Books)
"[McBride's] effervescent young narrator is pitch-perfect and wholly original."—Geraldine Brooks (in judging the Morning News Tournament of Books)
"For years we have waited for a response to William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner. So long, in fact, that we forgot we were waiting. The Good Lord Bird sings like a bird set free, with a voice that ought to join Huck Finn, the narrators of Toni Morrison’s Jazz, and Junot Díaz’s Oscar Wao as a voice which is here to tell us who we are in music so lovely we almost forget it was born in terrible pain. It’s an alarmingly beautiful book."—John Freeman (in judging the Morning News Tournament of Books)
Top Customer Reviews
I'm happy to say that Mr. McBride presents a book that reaffirms his mastery of historical fiction. BIRD is the story of a young black boy, Henry Shackleford, snatched up by abolitionist John Brown and taken away from his family after the youngster's father is killed in a scuffle. Mistaken for a girl by the crusty old man, Henrietta became his name, although Little Onion was Brown's pet name for him. What follows is Onion's account of Brown's rabid attempt to free all the slaves and Onion's adventures disguised as a girl..
John Brown was a fanatical lunatic beset with God's direction. No one could sway him from his mission, control his madness, or change the way he went through life as an unkempt and disagreeable person. Onion was the exception and, although hunger, cold, and violence plagued the boy through most of his time with Brown, he remained loyal and closely bound to the demented old man for years.
McBride has amazing ability to flesh out his characters through dialogue and verbal depictions. This entire book is written in the dialect of the 1850s, using colloquialisms and expressions of the period and place. It's a joy to read because of the endless asides that either amuse or anger the protagonists, depending on their frame of mind.Read more ›
On the other hand, those who are willing to accept the validity of McBride's setting will find the descriptions of John Brown's character and the "inspired irrationality" of his abolitionist crusade full of nuance and depth. The narrator character, the boy (cast by Brown as a girl) Henry (Henrietta) Shackleford - called Onion - speaks with complete authenticity and amazing insight. The various sons (and one daughter) of John Brown who appear in the story are portrayed with extraordinary intensity given the relatively minor parts they play. The Negro characters, both slave and free, are represented with similarly sharp delineation; in the case of Frederick Douglass, with more than slightly unflattering perspective.
The plot is complex, and at times I felt that the time-line got somewhat confused. For those like me who are not fully conversant with the history of John Brown's exploits, I think at least a brief recap of dates, perhaps at the beginning of each part or at least as a summary at the end, might have lessened that confusion somewhat. However, I did not let this really distract me from my own intense involvement with and enjoyment of the story. Though it was not really "fast moving" in all parts, there was plenty of action and suspense. McBride has definitely produced a masterpiece, I believe.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I was not able to make much progress with this book. It was hard to sympathize with the characters. The plot was somewhat vacuous.Published 15 days ago by Joan Ifland
Really interesting with such unusual narative speak, but oh so slow.Published 16 days ago by Sharon Tansom
Do not understand the award. Yes, a clever idea and period linguistics, but beyond tedious to read.Published 16 days ago by Gary J.
I couldn't have imagined that I would enjoy a Civil War era story told by a Negro child (pre-AfroAmerican titles), but I truly did. Read morePublished 17 days ago by ward dean jr
James McBride did an awesome job depicting this true tail with literary fiction. From the real life characters to the made up ones, he wrote so it all flowed and came alive. Read morePublished 27 days ago by David Thompson
It was quite surprising to learn the back story of a well known historical figure. I would have preferred less background and more about the events at Harper's Ferry. Read morePublished 1 month ago by TSCF
Memorable book - enjoyable from start to finish, evocative of the time and place, and beyond this informative. The unlikely narrator, "onion", could not have been better.Published 1 month ago by Lois Lembo
I would recommend this book for those who want to read a nuanced portrayal of John Brown and his role in helping prepare the way for the Civil War, told from the fresh perspective... Read morePublished 1 month ago by J. A. Hickman