cover image Letters from a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs

Letters from a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs

Mary E. Lyons. Atheneum Books, $16 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-684-19446-2

Lyons ( Sorrow's Kitchen: The Life and Folklore of Zora Neale Hurston ) imaginatively recreates the experiences of a 19th-century slave--the early deaths of her parents; the unwanted attentions of her master; her liaison with a somewhat more beneficent white man; and her devotion to the children who ensue, which led her to run away--in this searing epistolary work, based on and faithful to Jacobs's 1861 autobiography. Before attaining her freedom Jacobs endured seven years of confinement in a relative's storeroom. These missives to departed friends and relations not only bear sorrowful witness to this numbing captivity--``Time,'' one letter begins, ``is a whisper I cantstet no apostrophe hear''--but also form an eloquent testament to her unfettered spirit and a powerful attestation to the suffering and resilience of thousands of African American women. Words, Lyons imagines Harriet writing in a moment of despair, are only ``poor silent beggars that cant tell how I feel''; but her words paint a portrait that is immediate indeed. Lyons concludes with a summary of the remainder of Jacobs's life and an illuminating note that details her own meticulous methods of investigation and reconstruction. This powerful book stirringly celebrates the strength of the human spirit. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)