Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Gospel Truth

On a recent trip to South Carolina, I happened to stumble upon this:

Ruins of former slave dwellings,
Baynard Plantation, Hilton Head Island, SC
As moving as this find was, what made it most remarkable was that I had just finished reading this:

It wasn't difficult for my mind to take the short journey from a former Sea Island cotton plantation in South Carolina to an 1858 Virginia tobacco plantation. To stand where over one hundred enslaved humans once lived and toiled, and to listen for their voices, was a very emotional experience for me.

Not that any of this was really necessary. Phoebe's voice came out loud and clear to me through the pages of Caroline Pignat's touching story. Although mute, Phoebe's strength and determination are infectious.

In addition to the heroine, The Gospel Truth is told from the viewpoint of five other characters. I almost hesitate to tell you that it is written in free verse, because when I have mentioned this to some, they have responded with: "Oh, I don't think I'd like that." Really? It is the poetic beauty of the spoken, as well as the unspoken word; the careful arrangement, and the cadence of the speech, that elevates The Gospel Truth from another good story about American slavery, to an amazing and poignant portrayal of the human spirit.

Words of a White Man

                                                                 I hand them what I've brought.
                                                                 Each man silent,
                                                                 as he stands in the moonlight considering what he holds:
                                                                 a compass
                                                                 a knife
                                                                 a pistol
                                                                 twenty dollars

                                                                 a chance for freedom.

                                                                 "I can give you the tools," I say,
                                                                 "to guide and protect you.
                                                                  I can show you the path,
                                                                  but in the end,
                                                                  it's you that must choose it
                                                                  and walk it.
                                                                  You alone that must risk it."

                                                                  I watch them weigh it.
                                                                  Each man wondering if he's willing
                                                                  to wager his life
                                                                  on the words of a white man
                                                                  in the woods at midnight.

I highly recommend this one!

The Gospel Truth, by Caroline Pignat. Red Deer Press, 2014.
327 p.
Ages 12+

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