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The Slaves Have Names: Ancestors Of My Home Kindle Edition
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Not a fictional novel, neither is it a book with lots of factual information about any of the characters. a lot of facts were lost or simply never recorded.
It's like you're standing in the slave graveyard listening to Andi dreamily tell the stories of the people buried there. She starts out with facts and then tries to think of what it would have been like for that person, why they did certain thinhgs, how they felt... It's easy to get caught up in the story, as she paints a picture of someone who really lived but ho we know barely anything about.
Statistics are derived from numbers about people, but those people are and were never just a number, no matter what people treated them like. They were a life with tears, laughts, dreams.
Names on a list can at best be found on gravestones and it's not just a grave or a name; It's a life with a story, complex, and it's sad if they get forgotten.
I love these stories, and want them with as much fact as possible but not dry and factual. Andi does a great job of doing this gently and tactfully, admitting she doesn't know, but can only try to undertand, geuss, emphatize.
Cleo Lampos, author of Dust Between the Stitches
The flow of the book reminds me a lot of a good documentary, interspersing cobbled-together historical remnants of the lives of slaves—sparse biographies that Cumbo fleshes out with fiction in order to further humanize her subjects—with exposition about the plantation, the research process, and the author's own reflections on her research.
Honestly, Cumbo asks a lot of the reader in some ways. To read the story of one slave after another, especially when the information available is skeletal at best, is often disorienting—a bit like trying to keep up with one of Robert Altman's ensemble casts in one of his more ambitious films. I'll put it this way: If you're one of those people who have trouble remembering the names of the people you meet at, say, a new church, you're going to be thumbing through the pages from time to time, trying to remember who is who. But at the same time, the aim of the book as a whole is clear and clever. It represents the heart of an author who is fascinated by the plantation's past, but also possessed of a heartfelt sorrow for its slaves and their lots in life.
One reviewer here criticizes the overly serious tone of the book, and Cumbo's "sanctimonious" thoughts about slavery. I must say, I am a bit baffled by this. A research memoir like this is anchored in place by a singular author's perspective, and if that author happens to find herself humbled by her subject matter, and inspired to write prose that captures her own feelings about what she is writing, I think that is most definitely allowed. Encouraged, even.
It is her singular perspective and her heart for her subject matter, in fact, that make the past—however tentative—spring to life in the present for the reader. What she builds by the end of the book feels a bit like a house of cards that might come tumbling down at any minute, but that fragility is part of what makes it intriguing to me. Cumbo reminds us that when we do not chronicle the past, we lose it. A lesson worth learning for anyone and everyone.