A deeply moving recasting of one of the most controversial characters in American literature, Huckleberry Finn's Jim
Written in the great literary tradition of novels of American slavery, My Jim is told in the incantatory voice of Sadie Watson, an ex-slave who schools her granddaughter with lessons of love she learned in bondage. To help her granddaughter confront the decisions she needs to make, Sadie mines her memory for the tale of the unquenchable love of her life, Jim. Sadie's Jim was an ambitious young slave and seer who, when faced with the prospect of being sold, escaped down the Mississippi with a white boy named Huck. Sadie is suddenly left alone. Worried about her children, convinced her husband is dead, reviled as a witch, and punished for Jim's escape, Sadie's will and her love for Jim, even in absentia, animate her life and see her through.
Told with spare eloquence and mirroring the true stories of countless slave women, My Jim re-creates one of the most controversial characters in American literature. A nuanced critique of the great American novel, My Jim stands on its own as a haunting and inspiring story about freedom, longing, and the remarkable endurance of love.
In her spare, moving retelling of the story of escaped slave Jim from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Rawles shifts the focus to Jim's wife, Sadie, whose unspeakable losses set the tone for Jim's flight. Trained as a healer, Sadie helps bring Jim into the world when she herself is "no higher than a barrel." As they grow up together on Mas Watson's Missouri plantation, Jim only has eyes for Sadie, and after an informal marriage following their daughter Lizbeth's birth, they consider fleeing together. Their plans change when Mas Watson dies, and Sadie is taken by a hateful neighbor while Jim is kept on by Mas Watson's daughter. Jim finally escapes on his own, but is presumed dead when his hat is found floating in the Mississippi. After countless tribulations, Sadie meets up again with Jim, who has ventured down the Mississippi with Huck Finn in the meantime, but the pair are not reunited. Further disappointment comes after emancipation, when Sadie learns that freedom looks an awful lot like slavery. Writing in sonorous slave dialect, Rawles creates a memorable protagonist in Sadie and builds on Twain's portrayal of Jim while remaining true to the original. Agent, Victoria Sanders. (Jan.) Forecast: Like Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea, Rawles sketches an impressionistic portrait of a secondary 19th-century fictional character. This is a skillful addition to a small subcanon and may find a place on some high school reading lists. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 23, 2006
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Excerpt from My Jim by Nancy Rawles
Chas Freeman ask me to marry him.
Take me by the hand. Take me in his arms. Lift me on his horse and jump up right behind me. Show me a letter say he got duty with the Ninth Cavalry at Fort Robinson Nebraska. Got to ride out there and chase down them savage whites and Indians.
I real happy for Chas. He so proud. But I dont wants to go to Nebraska and I tells him so. Cloud come over his face and he get real quiet.
You think on it he say. Me I cant sharecrops no more. I aint born a slave and I aint gonna live like one.
Who gonna keep the land I says. But he aint got no answer.
I comes back for you Sunday after next he say. You come if you want me. You the one I wants. Chas always sure bout everything. Me I aint so sure and I cries when he leave me at Nanna Sadies cabin.
Nanna in there shucking corn.
Why you all the way crying she want to know. You ever seen a bird crying. Here you sitting free as a bird and crying like a beatdown dog. What your name she say.
You know my name I tells her.
I knows it. You the one forget. She look at me real hard cause she mad now. What your name she say again.
Marianne. I can hardly answers. Her asking make me weep.
Marianne what. She sound like a preacher on Judgment Day.
You Free Marianne. Got a freeman asking for your hand. What you gonna say gal.
I cant says nothing so I looks down at the floor.
What year we in she want to know.
She never know the year. She say it aint important. But she know I counts the year and she make me tell her when she mad. Nanna reckon I reads and writes and figures but I aint gots no more sense than a lightning bug.
1884. I says it to my feet.
When you born gal.
How old you now.
What you waiting for then.
I aint crying no more but I still cant finds my words. I hates to think bout leaving my nanna. She cant hardly see but she see my fear.
Dont worry bout me she say. Your uncles gonna come round and help me with my crop. Dont bother yourself bout me none. My spirits and my songs surrounding me.
She chewing on her pipe.
But how I knows Chas the one I asks.
He sing dont he she say. Goodlooking fella and strong. Want something for hisself. Never get with nobody dont want nothing for hisself. He sing and he know how to wear a hat. I likes a man know how to wear a hat. I bets he wearing that hat when he ask you for your hand.
She light her pipe looking at me out the corner of her eye. She see with that corner. If slaves can love you can love she say. Chas love you and he want you to marry him. I gives you two my blessing.
I aint sure I loves Chas Freeman. He almost a man but I aint through being a child.
Nanna take a long smoke. She blow heavy on her pipe.
You scared to love cause you scared to lose. You want to stay here forever. Washing white folks dirty linen. Slopping they hogs. Nursing they children.
Far as I can sees it aint so different at Fort Robinson I says. After doing all them soldiers laundry I still gots to nurse my children and slop my own hogs.
I sees you still got that tongue in your mouth Nanna say. You marry you got to watch that tongue. She put down her pipe and put down the corn. She take my hand like when I was little. She pat me on the hand.
Dont make me go Nanna. I throws my arms round her neck. We stands that way a long time till the light start to leave. We aint gots no candle and not one Liberty nickel. No oil for the lamp or Indian head penny. It summer in Shreveport and plenty hot. Moon sitting low in the sky and two of us thinking bout never seeing each other no more.
After awhile I feels my nanna crying. Aint never knows her to cry. Not even when Papa Duban die last winter. His heart fail and we finds him on the floor.
Long time ago I wants to stay she say. I wants to stay and they aint let me.
She sobbing a low moan. I tries to comfort her but she old. I cant says how old now. I helps you make the crop I says. I aint wants to leave you Nanna. They gonna take our horse and plow and chickens cause Papa Duban done sign the paper. Thats why you crying aint it Nanna.
She shake her head. Papa Duban good to me all his days she say. She move away from me. Aint love make you lose everything. Life just mean thats all.
She talking real soft now. I sees her eyes looking far away. I aint cries for Papa Duban she say. I cries thinking bout how they force me to leave my husband. How they tear my children from me. All them years ago. I wants to stay and they aint let me.
What husband I says. What children. I never hears you call they names.
My Jim she whisper. My Lizbeth. My Jonnie. Been years since I calls they names.