This is a difficult book to review. On the one hand, the author was a brilliant storyteller and I greatly anticipated the release of this book. But, on the other, maybe this didn’t deserve a full length publication. It feels more suited to a magazine article or a series of them.
Cudjo (Kossula) Lewis arrived in America in 1859 on what is thought to be the last ship to carry enslaved Africans, the Clotilda. As part of her work as a cultural anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston was sent to interview him for Carter G. Woodson’s Journal of Negro History. Through a series of casual visits at his home, Hurston is able to hear a rare first hand account of what it’s like to be sold from everything you’ve known and forced into a whole new way of existence. Slavery is abolished less than 7 years later and now Cudjo and the others who came over on the Clotilda are in the unique position of being free in a country where they’re considered foreigners, even by the African-Americans they worked alongside.
It’s easy to see why Hurston was chosen for this assignment, as she was able to relate to Cudjo in a familiar yet respectful way, allowing him to tell his story in a way that felt comfortable for him. I learned a lot, but I felt like the meat of the story was less than I expected. There’s a lengthy introduction that gives backstory surrounding the history of the area where Cudjo was born, the sailing of the Clotilda, and Hurston’s efforts to get this work published. I would have preferred this as an afterward, because it was a little exhausting to read before actually getting to the book. It made Cudjo’s words seem over too quickly.
As a student of African-American history, I recommend Barracoon because of its importance to the canon of Zora Neale Hurston. But I finished wanting more.
Goodreads Rating: 3 stars
I received a complimentary copy of this e-book from Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.