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My Jim: A Novel

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Nancy Rawles

In her spare, moving retelling of the story of escaped slave Jim from Mark Twain'sThe 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 … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Nancy Rawles
Publisher: Crown Publishers
1 review about My Jim: A Novel

A Fitting Sequel to Huck Finn Destined to be a Classic

  • Jan 31, 2005
  • by
Rating:
+5
My Jim is an imaginative take on the fictional Jim of Huckleberry Finn lore. Nancy Rawles, a writer and history teacher, took issue with the way the highly controversial book by Mark Twain was portrayed in the schools in Seattle, her adopted town. She began researching which included a trip to Hannibal, Missouri where Hick Finn takes place and years of reviewing slave narratives and the slavery culture. Rawles constructed her story around a passage in Huck Finn that expressed Jim's desire for freedom for himself and his family. Taking literary license, she tells the story through the eyes of Jim's wife, Sadie, as she relays her memories of the man she loved to her granddaughter who is contemplating marriage as they piece a quilt over a twelve-day period.

Sadie was at the birth of Jim, toting water for the midwife. She was barely high as a barrel but the life of a slave child was so that they began toiling from the time they were able to grasp a cup. Sadie and Jim lived on Mas Watson's plantation in Missouri. Sadie watched Jim grow as she also watched the people she loved leave her either through death or by being sold away never to be seen again. In rich details the hard life of back-breaking labor and the beatings endured by the slaves is meticulously told. Slaves were no more than cattle, scratching for food just to survive and for mating and producing more slaves for the master. The most ragged of apparel was hard to come by to keep themselves clothed and they had to condition themselves not show pain when their children were sold away from them.

Reading a book about slavery can be a drain mentally but Rawles' language was fluid and luminous, so much so, I felt like I was walking through the woods gathering the leaves from the sassafras trees and plant roots from which Sadie made her "cures". I could hear the cadence of the many tongues of the slaves who came from different points of the African continent to the plantation in New Roads, Louisiana where Sadie was sold later on in her life. Though written in dialect without contractions and no punctuation other than the period, it was surprisingly readable for this reviewer. The references to the culture of Africa were highlighted throughout the book such as the dance rituals and belief systems of Sadie and the other slaves that were held in their souls.

I met Rawles last year when she came to Oakland for her signing of Crawfish Dreams and as she talked about this new release, she conveyed a sincerity of what she was trying to accomplish with this book. She took artistic allowance as she gave voice to Jim as more than the savior and companion to Huck Finn, but a man of flesh and blood who had hopes and dreams of seeking the elusive quest of freedom and to love and care for his family as a man. This was a love story of Sadie and Jim who promised to love each other always, a testament to those who could be beat down but not broken despite not knowing when they would be torn from the one they loved. "If slaves can love, then free people should love...." Sadie tells Marianne, her granddaughter as she bestows tangible pieces of her past to complete the quilt they have been piecing. A button from her beloved Lizabeth, a shard from the cup that held her potions and a scrap of Jim's hat, all of which symbolized the mosaic of her fractured life. This slim volume is packed with powerful meaning that deserves to be a classic.

Dera Williams
APOOO BookClub

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