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Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel [in Booklist]

Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in History, W. Caleb McDaniel’s 2019 debut gets a 2020 aural adaptation, helmed by prolific Paul Heitsch, who adds solemn gravitas to an utterly compelling narrative. Born enslaved in 1818/1820 in Kentucky, Henrietta Wood was freed in 1848 and living in Cincinnati. Betrayed by her employer, she was abducted and re-enslaved in 1853. Freedom remained denied until after the Civil War – and not before she gave birth to son Arthur who, because he was born to an enslaved mother, was also enslaved from birth.

In 1870, Wood sued her wealthy captor, Zebulon Ward; eight years passed before she finally won. Although her $2,500 award was a fraction of her $20,000 suit, the amount would be enough to support Arthur’s legal education, enabling his subsequently successful career.

Despite a few minor aural missteps – the clumsy insertion/correction of after-initial-recording sentences and Heitsch’s pronunciation of mulatto as mewlatto – McDaniel’s impeccable storytelling and meticulous research make the aural acquisition a multiplying-audience-must for all libraries.

Combine with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power and Monique Truong’s fictional biography of Lafcadio Hearn (whose printed interview with Wood is an oft-quoted resource), The Sweetest Fruits, for gratifying enlightenment.

Review: “Media,” Booklist Online, June 19, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2020


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