Frederick Douglass

Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts. Jun. 2024. 680p. ISBN 9780998825793. $32. F
DEBUT In this epic historical novel, retired educator Morrison fictionalizes the entire life of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, from his time as an enslaved child worker to his daring escape as a young man and his ultimate rise to prominence and government appointment. Moments like Douglass’s need to flee the country after John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry, and the joy felt at the official announcement of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, are vividly recreated. The fictional approach allows Morrison to fully embody characters only mentioned on the margins of historical accounts, such as Douglass’s wife Anna, an illiterate free woman who stood by him throughout his long-term emotional and physical affairs with women such as British abolitionist Julia Griffith and the German journalist Ottilie Assing, who are both also richly characterized here. There are times when the novel reads like a history, and some readers may wish for more storytelling verve than strict historical comprehensiveness, but the book is always informative.
VERDICT Morrison grapples with Douglass in all his complexities, extolling his greatness while also grappling with his human fallibility in this detailed and well-researched book that will both educate and spark discussions. Readers of Marie Benedict will be entertained.
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