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Song Yet Sung

Cover of Song Yet Sung

Song Yet Sung

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March, 1850. In the tense days before the Civil War, a slave breakout in the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland's eastern shore sets loose a riveting drama of violence, hope, and redemption among slave catchers, plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves, and free blacks. Liz Spocott, a beautiful runaway slave, shot and near death, is wracked by disturbing visions of the future as she lies shackled to an old woman in the prison attic of the notorious female slave-trader Patty Cannon and her gang. The ancient nameless woman reveals "the Code," a fiercely guarded cryptic means of communication for slaves on the run. Armed with an array of words that she does not understand, Liz escapes once again, but now must evade an enraged Patty Cannon and a new nemesis, Denwood Long–a troubled slave catcher and waterman, who is coaxed out of retirement to break the Code. As she makes her desperate run, Liz is thrust upon the denizens of the swampy peninsula: the handsome slave Amber, the terrifyingly wild Woolman, the widowed Kathleen Sullivan. Meanwhile Liz's extraordinary dreams of tomorrow create a freedom-seeking furor among the once complacent slave community. The mysterious disappearance of two children, one white and one black, seeds an explosive ending.
Filled with rich history–much of the story is drawn from historical events–and told in McBride's signature lyrical style, SONG YET SUNG brings into full view a world long misunderstood in American fiction. This is a story of tragic triumph, violent decisions, and unexpected kindness.
From the Compact Disc edition.
March, 1850. In the tense days before the Civil War, a slave breakout in the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland's eastern shore sets loose a riveting drama of violence, hope, and redemption among slave catchers, plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves, and free blacks. Liz Spocott, a beautiful runaway slave, shot and near death, is wracked by disturbing visions of the future as she lies shackled to an old woman in the prison attic of the notorious female slave-trader Patty Cannon and her gang. The ancient nameless woman reveals "the Code," a fiercely guarded cryptic means of communication for slaves on the run. Armed with an array of words that she does not understand, Liz escapes once again, but now must evade an enraged Patty Cannon and a new nemesis, Denwood Long–a troubled slave catcher and waterman, who is coaxed out of retirement to break the Code. As she makes her desperate run, Liz is thrust upon the denizens of the swampy peninsula: the handsome slave Amber, the terrifyingly wild Woolman, the widowed Kathleen Sullivan. Meanwhile Liz's extraordinary dreams of tomorrow create a freedom-seeking furor among the once complacent slave community. The mysterious disappearance of two children, one white and one black, seeds an explosive ending.
Filled with rich history–much of the story is drawn from historical events–and told in McBride's signature lyrical style, SONG YET SUNG brings into full view a world long misunderstood in American fiction. This is a story of tragic triumph, violent decisions, and unexpected kindness.
From the Compact Disc edition.
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  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from September 24, 2007
    Escaped slaves, free blacks, slave-catchers and plantation owners weave a tangled web of intrigue and adventure in bestselling memoirist (The Color of Water
    ) McBride's intricately constructed and impressive second novel, set in pre–Civil War Maryland. Liz Spocott, a beautiful young runaway slave, suffers a nasty head wound just before being nabbed by a posse of slave catchers. She falls into a coma, and, when she awakes, she can see the future—from the near-future to Martin Luther King to hip-hop—in her dreams. Liz's visions help her and her fellow slaves escape, but soon there are new dangers on her trail: Patty Cannon and her brutal gang of slave catchers, and a competing slave catcher, nicknamed “The Gimp,” who has a surprising streak of morality. Liz has some friends, including an older woman who teaches her “The Code” that guides runaways; a handsome young slave; and a wild inhabitant of the woods and swamps. Kidnappings, gunfights and chases ensue as Liz drifts in and out of her visions, which serve as a thoughtful meditation on the nature of freedom and offer sharp social commentary on contemporary America. McBride hasn't lost his touch: he nails the horrors of slavery as well as he does the power of hope and redemption.

  • AudioFile Magazine At the core of this powerful story of a runaway slave trying to survive along Maryland's eastern shore in the 1850s is a literary device that fails to persuade. Liz Spocott is called "two-headed" because she has futurist dreams--like clips from our nightly news--of the future of blacks in America, including visions of a great preacher who also has a dream. Liz's own short life among slavers; slave catchers; a fabled runaway slave gone feral, called the Woolman; and Moses, a Harriet Tubman figure, is compelling enough. It may be that the whole construct doesn't quite come together because the usually wonderful Leslie Uggams rarely finds the right tone here, overdramatizing as if performing for restive children, diverting attention from the story to the performance. B.G. (c) AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine
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Song Yet Sung
Song Yet Sung
James McBride
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