Houston’s posthumous book arrives at library

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Local News

June 11, 2018 - 11:00 PM

One of the year’s major literary events is the publication of “Barracoon” by Zora Neale Houston. Houston was an anthropologist and author. Although she was a major figure in the Haarlem Renaissance of the 1920s, she had receded into obscurity by the time of her death in 1960. In recent decades, her star has risen and she is now regarded as one of the major talents of the 20th century. Her “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a staple of college curricula and book discussion groups, including The Big Read.

Houston was unable to get “Barracoon” published during her lifetime, however. It’s a nonfiction account of the life of Cudjo Lewis. In 1927, when Houston interviewed him, he was the last surviving African who had been captured and brought to the United States as a slave (long after the transatlantic slave trade had been banned). Cudjo recalls his childhood, capture at the age of 19, the Middle Passage, his five and a half years as a slave, and the terrors visited upon former slaves by ex-Confederates after Reconstruction ended. “Barracoon” is currently on the best seller lists.

Another major publication of the summer is “Warlight” by Michael Ondaatje, best known for “The English Patient.” It begins with Nathaniel saying “In 1945, our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.” The term warlight refers to the dimmed lights used for emergency traffic in England during World War II blackouts. It’s a metaphor here for this period in Nathaniel’s life. Twelve years later, violence and shocking revelations begin to pierce the warlight.

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