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Song Yet Sung

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Song Yet Sung PDF, ePub eBook From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction. In the days before the Civil War, a runaway slave named Liz Spocott breaks free from her captors and escapes into the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland’s eastern shore, setting loose a drama of violence and hope among slave catchers, plantation owners, waterm From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction. In the days before the Civil War, a runaway slave named Liz Spocott breaks free from her captors and escapes into the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland’s eastern shore, setting loose a drama of violence and hope among slave catchers, plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves, and free blacks. Liz is near death, wracked by disturbing visions of the future, and armed with “the Code,” a fiercely guarded cryptic means of communication for slaves on the run. Liz’s flight and her dreams of tomorrow will thrust all those near her toward a mysterious, redemptive fate. Filled with rich, true details—much of the story is drawn from historical events—and told in McBride’s signature lyrical style, Song Yet Sung is a story of tragic triumph, violent decisions, and unexpected kindness.  

30 review for Song Yet Sung

  1. 5 out of 5

    tamia

    I'll be honest, after Barack Obama won the election on 11/4/08 the LAST thing I wanted to do was read a book about the antebellum South. But alas, Song Yet Sung was the next reading in my African American women's bookclub. However I am so incredibly happy I read this book. The story is nothing short of captivating. It is extremely thought provoking. Author James McBride does an amazing job of illustrating the complexities of slavery. By the end of the book I couldn't hate the slave owners or the I'll be honest, after Barack Obama won the election on 11/4/08 the LAST thing I wanted to do was read a book about the antebellum South. But alas, Song Yet Sung was the next reading in my African American women's bookclub. However I am so incredibly happy I read this book. The story is nothing short of captivating. It is extremely thought provoking. Author James McBride does an amazing job of illustrating the complexities of slavery. By the end of the book I couldn't hate the slave owners or the slave hunters. Like the slaves, they were caught in a system that was far greater and far more powerful than any of them. Granted there is an obvious right and wrong - black and white (no pun intended) - when it comes to denying freedom to a race of people and treating them as animals, servants, and commodity. Slavery WAS an economic reality in the South (that also drove the economy in the North but he doesn't go there) that took nothing short of a war to end. McBride doesn't let anyone off the hook. This isn't the story of evil White people. Slaves were slave hunters as well. McBride shows us how easily Blacks along with Whites believed a brazen lie: that it was ok to enslave a race of people because they WERE "less than" in every way. ...he also shows us how clearly that was far from truth. For anyone let alone hundreds of slaves to escape took courage, strength, wisdom, and strategy beyond comprehension. I don't want to give too much away but whether or not there really was a "code" we know some covert mode of communication existed that was created and carried out by cunning and ingenious souls. The story itself is wonderfully told. Once you get to the chase it's hard to put the book down. McBride is a musician and that's obvious. Through McBride's descriptions I can only imagine the beauty of Maryland's Eastern Shore juxtaposed the ugliness and brutality slavery. Liz's visions show us that we need to be ever vigilant. Just as slavery was an insidious cancerous epidemic way back when, so are poverty, racism, violence, and illiteracy today. My only issue is that the story is tough to follow sometimes. The vernacular isn't from 2008 (understandably so) and McBride doesn't believe in quotation marks. The latter forced me to read back every now and again to catch who was saying what. All in all though this is a great book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I was very satisfied with the emotional and mental ride of this tale about a runaway woman slave in eastern Maryland. It features a nice ensemble of interesting characters with intersecting agendas and dreams, and it highlights the strange social circumstances in a slave state bordering non-slave states and the creative efforts of people who supported the “Underground Railroad” for runaways to reach safety in the northern states or Canada. The first two lines reveal a critical magical realism el I was very satisfied with the emotional and mental ride of this tale about a runaway woman slave in eastern Maryland. It features a nice ensemble of interesting characters with intersecting agendas and dreams, and it highlights the strange social circumstances in a slave state bordering non-slave states and the creative efforts of people who supported the “Underground Railroad” for runaways to reach safety in the northern states or Canada. The first two lines reveal a critical magical realism element of the story, the ability of the lead character to see scenes from the future in her dreams: On a grey morning in March 1850, a colored slave named Liz Spocott dreamed of the future. And it was not pleasant. She dreamed of Negroes driving horseless carriages on shiny rubber wheels with music booming throughout, and fat black children who smoked odd-smelling cigars and walked around with pistols in their pockets and murder in their eyes. Liz wakes up in an attic chained to other runaways in the clutches of a disreputable merchant in caught or stolen slaves named Patty Cannon. Liz is recovering from a musket shot to the head, which makes her dreams even more powerful than when she first developed the talent (or curse) when whacked as a child. A fellow prisoner known as The Woman with No Name tunes her into mysteries of the coded communications she can use to find people who help runaways should she get loose again: Scratch a line in the dirt to make a friend. Always a crooked line, ‘cause evil travels in straight lines. Use double wedding rings when you marry. Tie the wedding knot five times. And remember, it’s not the song but the singer of it. You got to sing the second part twice—if you know it. Don’t nobody know it yet, by the way. … And it ain’t the song, it’s the singer of it. It’s got to be sung twice, y’know, the song. That’s the song yet sung. And loose she gets again, as she is very desperate not to the sent back. She has run away from a plantation owner in Virginia, the “Captain”, who has raped her and wants her for an easy concubine. Besides Patty and her gang of thugs, an expert slave catcher, Denwood, has been hired to track her down too, lured from his current profession as an oysterman by money. He has growing moral reservations about such work and is in a detached state from grief over loss of a son. Liz is helped by several fascinating characters, including a teenaged slave boy named Amber who serves a kindly widow, a white blacksmith, and a very large and mysterious black man called the Woolman, who has hidden deep in the swamps for years with his son. The initially simple story of escape becomes a rich and complex drama when the Woolman’s son becomes seriously injured and ends up in the hands of authorities, and he takes some drastic actions in response. I feel McBride is masterful in the way he makes his main characters evolve. Each is challenged by fate and choice. Freedom is revealed as more than the circumstances of being born a slave or not. Liz herself struggles over the hatred she feels for whites as a whole (“his children, his dreams, his lies, his world”; “they are raised to evil”), but her uncle has counseled her that their conception of blacks as inferior makes their hatred understandable and that she must rise above that: That’s why you got to leave yourself to God’s will. Chance belong to God. It’s an instrument of God. …Captain ain’t got nothing to do with that. He can’t touch it. Later an old man who helps her casts some light on the dark future her visions portend for her race: They ain’t no different than the folks around here. Some is up to the job of being decent, and some ain’t. …It don’t matter whether it’s now or a hundred years from now, or a hundred years past. Whatever it is, you got to live in a place where you can at least make a choice in them things. In addition to the great drama and overlay of ideas in this story, McBride does well to evoke a keen sense of place and the power of connection to the natural environment: Several times she stared at the water of the inlet and considered drowning herself in it. But each time she considered it, something attracted her attention. The ticking of a belted kingfisher . The scow call of a green heron. The odd coloring of a marsh hibiscus. She had the strangest feeling ever since leaving Patty Cannon’s attic, a kind of awareness that seems to lay new discoveries at her feet at the oddest moments. Her head, which had acquainted a familiar dull throb since she’d been wounded, had developed a different kind of pain, an inner one, as if something had come unsprung. She felt as if air were blowing through an open window in her head somewhere. It hurt surely. Yet, because of that new pain, or perhaps because of it, she began to feel a light-headed sense of discovery, as if every plant, every breeze, every single swish of leaf and cry of passing bird, contained a message. This book holds up well amid what seems to be a plethora of recent books that focus on the careers of slaves (for me they include novels by Edward Jones, David Fuller, and Toni Morrison). As with great books that encompass the subject of war, the “purpose” of such books and benefits of their reading has less to do with their conveying of history than using the extreme circumstances as a lens to explore the best and worst in human nature. After great enjoyment of this novel and McBride’s memoir, “The Color of Water”, I look forward to his recent “The Good Lord Bird”.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    5***** and a ❤ McBride is best known for his memoir The Color of Water . Here he turns his talents to an historical novel based on the true story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad that brought so many slaves to freedom in the North. Liz Spocott, a house slave and mistress to her master, is struck on the head and afterwards can see the future in her dreams. The book opens with Liz in captivity in the attic of a tavern, run by the notorious Patty Cannon and her band of slave stealers 5***** and a ❤ McBride is best known for his memoir The Color of Water . Here he turns his talents to an historical novel based on the true story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad that brought so many slaves to freedom in the North. Liz Spocott, a house slave and mistress to her master, is struck on the head and afterwards can see the future in her dreams. The book opens with Liz in captivity in the attic of a tavern, run by the notorious Patty Cannon and her band of slave stealers (they capture slaves they find alone, hold them until a broker comes to town, ship them south and sell them). She is chained to an elderly “woman without a name,” who recognizes Liz’s gift and tries to impart to Liz the secret code of slaves on the freedom train. The lesson is incredibly brief, and Liz is badly wounded (she’s been shot in the head, though the musket ball hasn’t penetrated her skull) and half delirious. But still she remembers just enough so that when the opportunity presents itself Liz manages to get free (and also free the 13 other slaves in the attic with her). Of course this means that Patty and her gang will stop at nothing to find Liz. As if that weren’t enough, her master has also hired a well-known slave catcher, The Gimp, to bring Liz back to him. The other slaves are afraid of her because of her perceived powers. The rumor mill is alive with stories about The Dreamer and her magic. So Liz is all alone, ill, and barely knows a few key parts of the code. The entire novel takes place in the swamps, marshes, inlets, and woods of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shore area (Dorchester County to be exact) in about 10 days’ time. It’s remote and unforgiving. But Liz finds help … first from The Woolman (a former slave who has been raised in the backwoods and swamps) and then from Amber (the slave of Missus Kathleen Sullivan, whose husband, along with Amber’s brother died oystering six months previously). I thought it was a compelling read, and I learned much about the Underground Railroad and life in pre-Civil War Maryland. I was immediately drawn into the story and stayed up way too late trying to finish it. When I originally read the book in April 2010, I rated this 4.5 stars because I was not sure it would appeal to everyone. But the more I thought about this book, and the more I talked about this book with other readers, the more I came to realize that I was unfairly down-grading the book. It is a FIVE-STAR book without question. UPDATE Jan 2011 – I listened to the audio book, narrated by Leslie Uggams. She does a fine job, but there’s something about her voice that just isn’t quite right. I think her pitch is too high; a man’s voice might have been better.

  4. 5 out of 5

    April Cote

    The beginning of the story was promising. A chase begins and you start to hope people escape. The chase goes on, and on, and on....and I hate to say it but I was bored. The ending was anticlimactic for me. I really had to push myself to finish this one.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Afia

    I was absorbed in this book from start to finish. The storyline is superb and the characters are complex. It weaves gender, race, class, and geography to create a very real and moving portrait of what is must have been like to live during this time in eastern Maryland. McBride does an excellent job in the "gray" areas of the last 13 years of slavery. You really see how the institution dehumanized everyone, even the so called "civilized" people. The book does an excellent job in dealing with ques I was absorbed in this book from start to finish. The storyline is superb and the characters are complex. It weaves gender, race, class, and geography to create a very real and moving portrait of what is must have been like to live during this time in eastern Maryland. McBride does an excellent job in the "gray" areas of the last 13 years of slavery. You really see how the institution dehumanized everyone, even the so called "civilized" people. The book does an excellent job in dealing with questions such as What does it mean to be free? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to own another person? What are people willing to do for money? What does it mean to be loyal? Who is an ally? Enemy? A final note: I am not sure I would have read it as soon as I did but I was attracted to the book by it's hauntingly beautiful cover when I was at my local bookstore.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Naomi Shank

    I listened to this audio CD while commuting to and from work and I was captivated at every sitting. The richness of the characters with their strengths, flaws, pride and foibles, the brutality and terror that was predominant during that period, the mysterious, spiritual and clairvoyant aspects of the slaves' inner world all engaged me deeply in this superbly written novel about the hunt for a beautiful escaped female slave on Maryland's eastern shore a decade before the Civil War and how she is I listened to this audio CD while commuting to and from work and I was captivated at every sitting. The richness of the characters with their strengths, flaws, pride and foibles, the brutality and terror that was predominant during that period, the mysterious, spiritual and clairvoyant aspects of the slaves' inner world all engaged me deeply in this superbly written novel about the hunt for a beautiful escaped female slave on Maryland's eastern shore a decade before the Civil War and how she is protected by a network of slaves who all abide by "the code" . James McBride's lush and detailed descriptions of the scenery and terrain drew me completely into setting; his chalky, accented, gruff slang of the period made the character's and their stories feel uniquely realistic and I loved how he developed each character in a multi-layered fashion; drawing out their humanity and emotions at just the right moments in the story. The plot twisted and turned so much that I was always on the edge of my seat! The topic of escaped slaves, and their harrowing, highly-risky journeys to freedom and the vicious greed of slave hunters who are determined to outwit them and break them down, and their courageous protectors' psychology, is one that is rarely discussed in the mainstream, when thinking about America's historical past. The interweaving of relationships between black and white, is much more intimate and complex than the master vs. slave framework and McBride's novel is a testament to how closely interwoven their relationships are. I was also very pleased to see how McBride brought out the African values of the slaves - values of loyalty, belief in God and the ability to emphasize the good in others, that I experienced when I lived in Africa.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Johnny D

    Mr. McBride, I assume that you regularly check out goodreads.com to see what the readership is saying about your work. I'm sure every criticism lobbed against your books stings you to your very core. No doubt as you are trying to drift off to sleep you do so only after darkly pondering, "what did Barbara from Dallas mean when she said that I used chocolate as an adjective too many times. And, man, should I really listen to Trevor S. and censor my use of the n-word?" I'm also certain that you love Mr. McBride, I assume that you regularly check out goodreads.com to see what the readership is saying about your work. I'm sure every criticism lobbed against your books stings you to your very core. No doubt as you are trying to drift off to sleep you do so only after darkly pondering, "what did Barbara from Dallas mean when she said that I used chocolate as an adjective too many times. And, man, should I really listen to Trevor S. and censor my use of the n-word?" I'm also certain that you love all the positive feedback, so I'll start with that. Sir, you tell a good tale. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I loved the magic realism, I loved the dreams, and I thought the dialogue was generally quite good. I especially enjoyed the portrayal of the secret communication among the black Americans. I do have a minor quibble, though. Oh, you know this was coming, didn't you? Mr. McBride, you seriously need to work on your similes. There, I said it. There are two in particular that stick out in my mind - "her face was as smooth as ice cream." This one isn't so bad. I see that you tried to avoid the cliché "as smooth as cream" but you still managed to leave me confused. Were you saying that her face was smooth, creamy and cold? Just how smooth was ice cream in Antebellum Maryland? Was her face a little bit sticky? What flavour are we talking here? Alright, I admit I probably thought a little too hard on this one so you can get away with it, I guess. This next one, though, you're not getting away with - "as silent as a summer's night." Mr. McBride, I like alliteration as next as the next man but, for goodness sakes, summer nights are not silent at all. Between the frogs, the crickets, the raccoons, and the drunken college students, summer nights are quite noisy. Winter's nights, on the other hand, are usually rather quiet, especially if there's fresh snow. In future editions you might want to change this one to "as silent as a snowy night." That one's free. I admit it's not very good, but it's still about ten times better than the one you used. To conclude, Mr. McBride, you can just message me if you need any help with your similes in future books. You're welcome.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    Set on the east coast of Maryland, in the mid 1800s, Song Yet Sung's main character is Liz Spocott a runaway slave, running away from the attentions of her sexually abusive master. When we first meet her, she's been shot, and ends up chained in an attic of a tavern belonging to Miss Patty Cannon, a notorious slave stealer who also picks up runaways and sells them to slaveowners in the south. (as an aside, Miss Patty was a real person.) Liz comes to be known as "the dreamer," because she has prop Set on the east coast of Maryland, in the mid 1800s, Song Yet Sung's main character is Liz Spocott a runaway slave, running away from the attentions of her sexually abusive master. When we first meet her, she's been shot, and ends up chained in an attic of a tavern belonging to Miss Patty Cannon, a notorious slave stealer who also picks up runaways and sells them to slaveowners in the south. (as an aside, Miss Patty was a real person.) Liz comes to be known as "the dreamer," because she has prophetic visions of the future. While in the attic, an older slave woman tells her bits and pieces of "the code," an intricate set of signals and words by which slaves can communicate and which also may offer the way to freedom. Eventually, all of the captives break away from the attic, and Patty Cannon decides to go after them to recoup her monetary losses. But there's also another person who is hired by Liz's owner to track her down, so the stakes become higher for Liz and for the slaves that help her after her escape. It is only while she is on the run that she begins to understand the code, and she realizes, with the help of her dreams (visions of what freedom - or the lack of it - means in the future for slavery's descendants) that it is not yet complete. What really sticks out in this novel is the notion that no one even remotely connected with slavery was free. For example, Denwood, the white slave tracker hired by Liz's owner has his own reasons for doing what he does; Miss Kathleen, the owner of slaves that help Liz is tied to her land and wholly dependent on her slaves after the death of her husband; even the villainous Miss Patty is dependent on slavery to make her living. Overall, this was a fine novel, one that I can definitely recommend. I stayed up pretty much through the night to finish it, so that tells you something.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Liz Spocott is a runaway slave in 1850 Maryland. She is shot in the head and captured by slave traders, when she manages to escape, setting free the other captures slaves at the same time. In McBride's novel, we are brought into the heart of slavery, and see it in total truth. We see that blacks could be loyal to their masters and not want to leave, and white owners who didn't always feel as if their slaves were merely property. McBride isn't saying that slavery wasn't bad, but that it's effect Liz Spocott is a runaway slave in 1850 Maryland. She is shot in the head and captured by slave traders, when she manages to escape, setting free the other captures slaves at the same time. In McBride's novel, we are brought into the heart of slavery, and see it in total truth. We see that blacks could be loyal to their masters and not want to leave, and white owners who didn't always feel as if their slaves were merely property. McBride isn't saying that slavery wasn't bad, but that it's effect on everyone wasn't clear-cut, as we might view it today. The character Liz Spocott is given visions (much like Harriet Tubman), but in her visions, she sees images of the future. Just like a 21st century person seeing images of slavery, Liz cannot fully process what she is seeing, and becomes convinced that the future will be terrible for people of color. I thought the author's play on time and context to be especially astute as he attempts to take an honest look at slavery. This is one of those books that I will have to go back and read again at some point. The author weaves actual historical persons within his narrative, presenting a tale that is as colorful as it is thought-provoking. It is one of those novels that you appreciate even more once you've had a chance to digest it. 4 1/2 stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    I thought this book was absolutely ingenious. It's easy to read and yet it's content is complex. It captured my attention at the very beginning and demanded its own quiet time. It's not the typical slave story, which is one thing that grabbed me and held me. Liz is "the Dreamer", who has a hand in helping free the slaves, no one knows how she fits into the scheme of things, they just know she's a part of the process. She is told the Code the slaves use to make their way to freedom by an elderly I thought this book was absolutely ingenious. It's easy to read and yet it's content is complex. It captured my attention at the very beginning and demanded its own quiet time. It's not the typical slave story, which is one thing that grabbed me and held me. Liz is "the Dreamer", who has a hand in helping free the slaves, no one knows how she fits into the scheme of things, they just know she's a part of the process. She is told the Code the slaves use to make their way to freedom by an elderly woman she meets while in the captivity of a slave catcher. Liz doesn't understand the Code but gains some understanding along the way. Liz's dreams allowed her to see our present. I've often wondered what the slaves would think if they could see us now. It was Liz's dreams, the telling of her dreams, and the reactions to her dreams that was most significant for me in this novel. I think McBride effectively showed how complicated the relationships were as well as the inner turmoil many probably felt at the time. He did a good job of setting the scenes and injecting the history of the watermen and the slave catchers.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    After the 1oth or so page, i flipped to the back of the book to see how long it was and said "thank god, another 340 pages....". Yes, it is that good. This book is filled with rich history and much of the story is drawn from historical events (The story of Harriett Tubman).Song Yet Sung brings into full view a world long misunderstood in American fiction: how slavery worked, and the haunting, moral choices that lived beneath the surface, pressing both whites and blacks to search for relief in a After the 1oth or so page, i flipped to the back of the book to see how long it was and said "thank god, another 340 pages....". Yes, it is that good. This book is filled with rich history and much of the story is drawn from historical events (The story of Harriett Tubman).Song Yet Sung brings into full view a world long misunderstood in American fiction: how slavery worked, and the haunting, moral choices that lived beneath the surface, pressing both whites and blacks to search for relief in a world where both seemed to lose their moral compass. This is a story of tragic triumph, violent decisions, and unexpected kindness.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jana Miller

    This was a hard one to rate. I would have given it a five if not for the violence and language. But it's hard because that graphic detail was a big part of what made the book what it is. I was really intrigued by so much of this book--the "code" the author comes up with as part of the Underground Railroad. I appreciated that it didn't divide by race who was good and who was bad. My favorite lines of the book: ---But I don't know who I am. ---Well, there it is, he said ruefully. That's a problem, a This was a hard one to rate. I would have given it a five if not for the violence and language. But it's hard because that graphic detail was a big part of what made the book what it is. I was really intrigued by so much of this book--the "code" the author comes up with as part of the Underground Railroad. I appreciated that it didn't divide by race who was good and who was bad. My favorite lines of the book: ---But I don't know who I am. ---Well, there it is, he said ruefully. That's a problem, ain't it. If you don't know who you are, child, I'll tell you: you's a child of God. ---With all I seen, I don't know that I believe in God anymore, she said. ---Don't matter, the old man said. He believes in you. The writing is beautiful, and I loved how it put together ideas of race, religion, freedom, and identity. I just wish McBride could have done it without all that other stuff.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Utterly compelling and gripping. Beauty. Ugly. Truth. Highly recommend! Will return with comments and or review.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    Song Yet Sung Book Summary: In the days before the Civil War, a runaway slave named Liz Spocott breaks free from her captors and escapes into the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland’s eastern shore, setting loose a drama of violence and hope among slave catchers, plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves, and free blacks. Liz is near death, wracked by disturbing visions of the future, and armed with “the Code,” a fiercely guarded cryptic means of communication for slaves on the run. Liz’s flight and Song Yet Sung Book Summary: In the days before the Civil War, a runaway slave named Liz Spocott breaks free from her captors and escapes into the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland’s eastern shore, setting loose a drama of violence and hope among slave catchers, plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves, and free blacks. Liz is near death, wracked by disturbing visions of the future, and armed with “the Code,” a fiercely guarded cryptic means of communication for slaves on the run. Liz’s flight and her dreams of tomorrow will thrust all those near her toward a mysterious, redemptive fate. My Review I had a little difficulty with this book due to the writing style and commentary. I'm used to light flowing writing and this was more poetic and a little heavy. Reading about slavery and the evil associated with it is always difficult for me. With that said, I did end up finishing the book and I liked it. The character of Liz was very interesting, she was called the Dreamer because of her strange dreams. Her dreams told of an indescribable future, one where young black men are loud and angry. Others where young black men helped others to look towards hope and promise. I thought it was brilliant to tie the past and the present together in this way. It was apparent that those who heard the dream didn't always understand what she was seeing but they knew she was seeing something. For me, the dreams were a sign of hope for the future. I also found the concept of the code intriguing. When under pressure, people become resourceful or they die. It's long been said that slaves could communicate and send messages faster than the white man could move from plantation to plantation. I love how that was woven into this story. True or not it was a very creative element. Overall the book struck a chord in me. A desire to know more about the times that are so painful in my history. There is a need to know where we came from in order to teach our children, to guide them, to keep them from falling in to an entirely different form of slavery. From a Christian Perspective> There was one passage that really jumped out at me: "It's God's world. He washes you clean. He makes you whole. He puts rain in your garden and sunshine in your heart. Just pray when you get free, child. Pray for what you done, and what you gonna do." Song Yet Sung, James McBride That passage really says so much in so few words. We have been washed in the blood, cleansed from our sins, our hearts filled with joy. Prayer is what keeps up connected to Him. We need Him for guidance! We can't move forward without him! Love & Blessings, Margaret

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I picked this one up at a local used bookstore awhile ago and tried to read it but just couldn't get into it. Then, I saw a few goodreads friends had read it and enjoyed it so I decided to give it another chance. And, I'm soooo glad that I did. I think I just wasn't in the right place to read it earlier. But, this read was wonderful! I really enjoyed the book - the writing alone is outstanding. I was amazed at the luscious writing ... the descriptions of time and place were just amazingly well w I picked this one up at a local used bookstore awhile ago and tried to read it but just couldn't get into it. Then, I saw a few goodreads friends had read it and enjoyed it so I decided to give it another chance. And, I'm soooo glad that I did. I think I just wasn't in the right place to read it earlier. But, this read was wonderful! I really enjoyed the book - the writing alone is outstanding. I was amazed at the luscious writing ... the descriptions of time and place were just amazingly well written. The author was able to describe the place in a way that just made me feel that I was there, experiencing every single, beautiful word. And, then, by putting that beautiful place up against the brutal and ugly world of slavery, McBride was able bring that time in our history alive for me. The story is focused on the complexities of slavery - the system, the brutality. And it really brings all of it to life. And I was glad that McBride seemed to bring to focus the fact that no one was able to break the chains of the system - white or black. This was not a book focused on the evil of the white man - it was focused on the evil of SLAVERY itself. No blame really - just a exploration of the system and its complexities. That was quite refreshing and gave me a different perspective that usually seen in books about this time in history. One element that I really found interesting was how McBride gave the reader a view modern-day African American society through the eyes of a slave. Those passages were fascinating to me. Those visions haunted me and gave me so much to think about. I really enjoyed this book - very compelling and interesting. I definitely recommend it!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kelley

    Novel received courtesy of Goodreads.com giveaway "Song Yet Sung" is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read. I was riveted from page one. James McBride's use of words in telling this story is as near to perfection as I have ever read. I believe that this novel would be a wonderful book to use in a high school/college class connecting both English and history--It is that impressive. The main character, Liz Spocott known as "The Dreamer", a slave that was captured and then, as if by divine Novel received courtesy of Goodreads.com giveaway "Song Yet Sung" is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read. I was riveted from page one. James McBride's use of words in telling this story is as near to perfection as I have ever read. I believe that this novel would be a wonderful book to use in a high school/college class connecting both English and history--It is that impressive. The main character, Liz Spocott known as "The Dreamer", a slave that was captured and then, as if by divine intervention, escaped along with others. This novel is the story of all of the people associated with her, other slaves, free blacks, slave hunters and other white people. Characterization is so well done by McBride that I was invested in each person in a different way. I was not only rooting for Liz; I was also rooting for the others who were trying to help her. I felt revulsion for the slave hunters and the white people in the area who treated the blacks, free or slave, as less than themselves. I did find myself hoping that the slave hunter known as "The Gimp" would have a change of heart. This novel is so well written and so full of "Big Ideas" that I hesitate to say more about the plot. The connection between past and present that is provided by Liz's character will make the reader step back and breathe deeply. It is a novel to be read again and again and to be treasured.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    After a moving tribute to his Jewish mother (The Color of Water, 1996) and a novel about African American soldiers in World War II (Miracle at St. Anna, 2003), jazz musician and composer James McBride reaches even further into the past to explore the complexities and unpredictability of human nature against the backdrop of slavery. Based on actual historical figures, including Harriet Tubman, McBride's novel starts slowly but soon develops into a suspenseful, action-packed adventure. Some critic After a moving tribute to his Jewish mother (The Color of Water, 1996) and a novel about African American soldiers in World War II (Miracle at St. Anna, 2003), jazz musician and composer James McBride reaches even further into the past to explore the complexities and unpredictability of human nature against the backdrop of slavery. Based on actual historical figures, including Harriet Tubman, McBride's novel starts slowly but soon develops into a suspenseful, action-packed adventure. Some critics objected to the blatant social criticism in Liz's dreams of modern-day African Americans (described by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as "frankly offensive imagery and the polemic they clearly represent"), and a few cited flat characters and overly modern idioms. However, throughout this compelling and thought-provoking novel, McBride skillfully weaves his timely message that slavery can persist in many forms.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sherese

    Blah -- I was bored and this type of narrative is usually right up my alley. I saw a review in Essence about a month or two ago, so I added it to my book list. I figured I'd give James McBridge another shot because I wasn't a huge fan of " The Color of Water". I'd normally devour a book of this nature but it took me about a week of carrying around the book in my purse and finally I forced myself to sit down today and read it because I just wanted to get it done to move on the my next book. Very Blah -- I was bored and this type of narrative is usually right up my alley. I saw a review in Essence about a month or two ago, so I added it to my book list. I figured I'd give James McBridge another shot because I wasn't a huge fan of " The Color of Water". I'd normally devour a book of this nature but it took me about a week of carrying around the book in my purse and finally I forced myself to sit down today and read it because I just wanted to get it done to move on the my next book. Very interesting characters but I felt the story itself dragged on becoming interesting only in the last 100 pages or so and the "dreams" of Liz were cheesy and predictable.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Glen Stott

    This is the story of a beautiful, young runaway slave girl named Liz hiding in the swamps of the eastern shore of Maryland. She is suffering from a serious head wound. Meanwhile, her owner, Captain Spocott wants her back – he had intimate plans for her. She was captured by Patty, a woman who owned a a tavern. She pretended to help runaway slaves, but after getting their confidence, she sold them, or returned them to collect a reward. Liz escaped from Patty, along with 13 others Patty was waiting This is the story of a beautiful, young runaway slave girl named Liz hiding in the swamps of the eastern shore of Maryland. She is suffering from a serious head wound. Meanwhile, her owner, Captain Spocott wants her back – he had intimate plans for her. She was captured by Patty, a woman who owned a a tavern. She pretended to help runaway slaves, but after getting their confidence, she sold them, or returned them to collect a reward. Liz escaped from Patty, along with 13 others Patty was waiting to sell. A woman with no name tells Liz part of a Code that Liz doesn’t understand. This part of the Maryland swampland was a hotbed of runaway slaves. It was only 80 miles from Pennsylvania and freedom. The Underground Railroad had a complicated Code that was used to keep all the parties informed. Liz soon realizes that is the Code the woman with no name has explained to her. Back in the swamp is a wild black man known as the Woolman because of his wild hair. Patti saves the Woolman’s son from an animal trap. Amber is a slave whose family is owned by a white couple in the swamp. He is the first one to help Liz. Meanwhile, Spocott has hired a renowned slave tracker, Deenwood, who is known to track a runaway slave as far as Canada and bring him back. Spocott has offered him a large bonus to get find Liz and bring her back. And so the story plays back and forth as the characters interact. Liz is on the run, some help her and others are after her. The Code keeps her one step ahead, but she is up against Denwood, and Patty, both with formidable connections. Ambrose does all he can to save her and the Woolman owes her a debt for saving his son. Liz is a “two-headed” person, someone who can see the future. Underneath the drama of the story are dreams Liz has about the future of her race. She sees her people driving horseless carriages, fat children with guns and murder in their eyes, flickering images of black women in little boxes, colored men in garish costumes bragging like drunkards – with “every bit of pride, decency, and morality squeezed clean out of them.” But she has other dreams of a preacher singing a song to large numbers of people, both black and white, a song of hope and freedom. This is in the song Yet sung. It is a song that could change her life and open the door in her time for the preacher to come in that future time. The story was gripping and enlightening. The characters where real and engaging. The book is thought provoking. One of the really good books I have read lately.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stacie Dore

    I would give the second half of this book 3 stars but with the first half only being 2 I have to give it 2. There was a unique interesting aspect to this book. A code by which black individuals could communicate without the white people knowing, I enjoyed that small part but the rest of the story and specifically the characters really needed some fleshing out.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Charles Matthews

    This a novel in which people say things like: “-- With all I seen, I don’t know that I believe in God anymore…. “-- Don’t matter…. He believes in you.” And: “-- Every truth is a lie. I heard that said. Only tomorrow is truthful.” But Song Yet Sung rises above its author’s sometimes clumsy attempts at profundity, because James McBride knows how to tell a story. His earlier novel, Miracle at St. Anna, is being filmed by Spike Lee, and his memoir, The Color of Water, about growing up in an interracial f This a novel in which people say things like: “-- With all I seen, I don’t know that I believe in God anymore…. “-- Don’t matter…. He believes in you.” And: “-- Every truth is a lie. I heard that said. Only tomorrow is truthful.” But Song Yet Sung rises above its author’s sometimes clumsy attempts at profundity, because James McBride knows how to tell a story. His earlier novel, Miracle at St. Anna, is being filmed by Spike Lee, and his memoir, The Color of Water, about growing up in an interracial family, is widely read in schools. Song Yet Sung is set in 1850 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a place of swamps and oysters, where watermen navigate the inlets of Chesapeake Bay and a handful of farmers try to control their restive slaves. The central character is a beautiful slave, Liz Spocott. When we first meet her, however, she’s not so beautiful: She has been shot in the face and is being held captive with other runaway slaves. In her delirium, Liz has one of her prophetic dreams, “of Negroes driving horseless carriages on shiny rubber wheels with music booming throughout, and fat black children who smoked odd-smelling cigars and walked around with pistols in their pockets and murder in their eyes. She dreamed … of colored men dressed in garish costumes like children, playing odd sporting games and bragging like drunkards – every bit of pride, decency, and morality squeezed clean out of them.” Liz is known, for obvious reasons, as “the Dreamer,” and what she dreams about the future of black Americans is for the moment not hopeful, though much later she will dream about Martin Luther King Jr. – “he speaks to a magic pipe that carries his voice for miles. … And the people, colored and white, red and yellow, man and woman, they hold hands and weep at his words.” As she recovers from her wound she discovers that she’s being kept in an attic with a dozen other captives. One of them is an old woman who tells her bits of “the code” – a secret method that slaves have developed to communicate over long distances. But the woman doesn’t tell her the parts of the code outright; instead, she couches them in gnomic utterances: “the coach wrench turns the wagon wheel. … Scratch a line in the dirt to make a friend. … Use double wedding rings when you marry. Tie the wedding knot five times. … And find the blacksmith if you’re gonna marry.” And so on. Liz will decipher much of the code after she and the others break out of their confinement and scatter. Liz and the others have been trapped by Patty Cannon, who makes a living by snatching up runaways and stealing slaves, then selling them south. Patty Cannon was a real person, although McBride has fudged the facts: She died in 1829 and her house, where Liz is held captive, was torn down in 1848. Patty was said to be a large, handsome woman who could out-wrestle any man and delighted in doing so. In addition to Patty, Liz is also being tracked by Denwood Long, a man known as “the Gimp” because of his bad leg, who has been hired by her owner to bring her back. There are killings and kidnappings and betrayals in this involving tale of flight and pursuit. Patty Cannon is a marvelously evil villain, and the Gimp turns out to be a man in search of redemption. There’s also a giant, mute, mysterious fugitive slave called the Woolman, who hides in the depths of the forest, having learned how to blend with it. There are so many characters, in fact, that Liz the Dreamer recedes into the background – she’s the cause of the action but not much of a participant in it. But along Liz’s journey, the reader discovers some of the secrets of “the code”: a system of communication based on patterns in quilts, knots in ropes, the way crates are stacked on a wharf, and the rhythms clanged out by a blacksmith on an anvil. The chief problem with the novel is that Liz’s visions of the future often go way over the top, as in this prophetic image: “his body was adorned with shiny jewelry – around his neck, his fingers, even in his mouth. A thousand drums seemed to play behind him, and as he spoke with the rat-tat-tat speed of a telegraph machine, he preached murder, and larceny, cursing women savagely and promising to kill, maim, and destroy.” McBride, who studied music composition at Oberlin, has let his distaste for the commercialized culture of hip-hop betray him into a sour, moralizing didacticism. For the truth is, his novel doesn’t need contemporary references, or even Liz’s clairvoyant dreams, to make its point. For he has a great and durable theme: the quest for freedom. Even his white characters are hemmed in by the peculiar institution of slavery, unable to free themselves from the constant anxiety and guilt in which it traps them. On this theme, the dialogue he gives his characters is occasionally eloquent. Here, Liz has told an old man about her vision of the preacher we recognize as King: “-- If that preacher you seen in your dream was hollering ’bout being free … well, then, he wasn’t free, now, was he? How long that gonna take? What time of tomorrow was you dreaming about? “-- I don’t know, she said. I said I would tell you of tomorrow. I didn’t say tomorrow wasn’t gonna hurt.”

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen McRae

    I enjoyed this book a lot. If you have never read anything about slavery and the underground railway this book is a good start.Inspired by Harriet Tubman's activity in assissting over 300 people out of slavery and into freedom she was and is an inspiring woman.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ayla

    They called her the dreamer and the two headed woman, she was a righteous woman.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Audra

    I am always drawn to books about slavery, whether fiction or nonfiction. This book started off well but then it seemed to just go on and on with no real developments. The end was a bit anticlimactic for me. I really wanted to like this book because black authors really do not get enough recognition in the writing world. This book did receive a lot of acclaim, though, but I really had to push to read it through to the end. This book was just okay for me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kb

    Outstanding storytelling. Loved all of the characters. 80 miles from freedom - what might that look and feel like when you are chattel to a white man? How far would you go to keep yourself ahead of the game - would you endanger and "sell out" others. A remarkable story - just loved it. Heartbreaking too. But so well developed and so well told. Listened to the unabridged audiobook.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Booknblues

    Song Yet Sung by James McBride has everything I love in a book, a wonderful and exciting story, great characters, compassion and understanding and excellent writing. Once I opened the book up and began the first paragraph, I couldn’t put it down. Liz Spocott is a two headed, one who sees visions and dreams, slave of 1850 Maryland, who is attempting to escape to the North. She is shot in the head and captured by some illegal slave traders who capture freemen or steal slaves and sell them in the de Song Yet Sung by James McBride has everything I love in a book, a wonderful and exciting story, great characters, compassion and understanding and excellent writing. Once I opened the book up and began the first paragraph, I couldn’t put it down. Liz Spocott is a two headed, one who sees visions and dreams, slave of 1850 Maryland, who is attempting to escape to the North. She is shot in the head and captured by some illegal slave traders who capture freemen or steal slaves and sell them in the deep south. After she escapes a second time release the fourteen others who were captured with her, the great adventure begins unleashing forces throughout Maryland in attempting to find her. She becomes somewhat of a legend and is known as The Dreamer. McBride is so adept at dialogue that it makes it a great pleasure to read: --Devil stole Jeff Boy! she said. --Who’s Jeff Boy? --Miss Kathleen’s son. From out Joya’s Neck. --Boyd Sullivan’s widow? Herbie asked --Yes, sir. Devil stole him. --Dead? Herbie asked --No, sir. I just told you, sir, she said. Boy went out to the grove. A hole opened up and the Devil came out and snatched him! --Speak sense woman! Herbie snapped. --I am, sir, she sputtered. He was taken down. Taken down, sir. He went out to the grove. Out back behind the cornfield. Ground opened up and the Devil popped out and snatched him down the hole. --What hole? --The hole from hell he popped out of. It is such a real and dynamic dialogue that the reader can hear it being said. Also the setting of 1850’s Maryland on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake bay is so well described. One can feel the sudden squalls which come out of the bay, picture the eerie swamps and understand the crusty oyster man who resent the plantation owners. It is a beautiful and action packed book which I would not hesitate to recommend. I am looking forward to reading other books by James McBride.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Regina Lindsey

    Song Yet Sung opens with the capture of a wounded runaway slave named Liz. Patty Cannon, a historical figure, allows Liz to be nurtured back to health but locks Liz away with other slaves intended for sell. As Liz regains her strength the other captives learn of her ability to dream of a future for African - Americans that includes everything from the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement to the prevalence of gang culture today. In exchange Liz is introduced to "The Code" used for communication by Song Yet Sung opens with the capture of a wounded runaway slave named Liz. Patty Cannon, a historical figure, allows Liz to be nurtured back to health but locks Liz away with other slaves intended for sell. As Liz regains her strength the other captives learn of her ability to dream of a future for African - Americans that includes everything from the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement to the prevalence of gang culture today. In exchange Liz is introduced to "The Code" used for communication by those involved in the Underground Railroad. Both confused and excited by "The Dreamers" revelations a revolt ensues and fourteen slaves escape. What follows is a beautiful and complex plot that paves the way for a great dreamer. This is my first McBride book, and I must admit that I am extremely impressed. McBride masterfully weaves a complex plot that never seems to weaken. I thought his detail to the mechanism of The Code that allowed rapid communication among slaves and the Free Black community incredibly well done. McBride takes the well-known parallels of biblical symbology and abolition/civil rights movement and expounds on them to create a very thoughtful plot and characters that are perfectly balanced. Finally, McBride shows that slavery is not only a physical condition, but is often a state of mind that can be felt by anyone irrespective of race. My criticism centers on the dreams. I really wanted them to be a more prevalent part of the story and there seemed to be a small disconnect between the dreams and the reaction of those around Liz. McBride portraya a creative and intelligent slave community. It seemed to reason that, based on this characterization, there would have been more interest in the meaning of the dreams. That being said this is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ernestine

    I thought that a book inspired by Harriet Tubman and a secret code that enslaved Africans used to gain their freedom would be a rich and exciting book. I was dissapointed. The book is well written and keeps your attention, but the leading character, the Dreamer, Liz is not an inspiring character. I understand that the author was trying to make a statement about today, but to have someone enslaved dream that freedom was so bad in the future that you have no drive to free yourself today is a stret I thought that a book inspired by Harriet Tubman and a secret code that enslaved Africans used to gain their freedom would be a rich and exciting book. I was dissapointed. The book is well written and keeps your attention, but the leading character, the Dreamer, Liz is not an inspiring character. I understand that the author was trying to make a statement about today, but to have someone enslaved dream that freedom was so bad in the future that you have no drive to free yourself today is a stretch. The code was the best part of the book. The author's notes say that so historians do not believe there was a code but we know that there was a language, like spirituals that was used to convey messages so why not a code. I enjoyed reading about the subtle ways we could use to communicate. I thought the book was overly violent. I had the impression that maybe the writer was making the book easy to convert to a screenplay. The most developed character was Denwood, the "Gimp" who was a slave catcher. It would have been a good book for high schoolers if it weren't so violent. There was good imagery of the beauty of the Eastern Shore in Maryland. I found the fact that for these people, freedom was only 80 miles away but the difficulty of the journey making it so much more, fasinating. The book also highlighted the watermen on Eastern shore and how slavery worked in that industry.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    First of all, I have to get used to saying I "listened to" a book rather than "read" it. What a coincidence that I finished it the night before the anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream speech." If you read the book, you may understand why it gave me goose bumps. This is not my typical preference in books but I was drawn into the story and immersed in the representation of a place and time I knew nothing about prior to this encounter. My sen First of all, I have to get used to saying I "listened to" a book rather than "read" it. What a coincidence that I finished it the night before the anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream speech." If you read the book, you may understand why it gave me goose bumps. This is not my typical preference in books but I was drawn into the story and immersed in the representation of a place and time I knew nothing about prior to this encounter. My sense is, that it is an historically accurate view but then, I wouldn't know otherwise. The characters are well drawn and compelling whether I liked them or not. What I am struck by is how what is seen on the surface was quite askance to what is going on behind the scene. It is remarkable what those in slavery were able to accomplish with their wits and creativity. I feel as though my eyes have been opened to a piece of history that is not taught in textbooks and I feel much richer for it. It isn't the least bit pretty but it feels like a dose of unvarnished reality and it has its own beauty which shines through the ugliness. The was not only a great story, it was an experience I will carry with me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Drick

    I picked this book up in a neat little bookstore in Easton, MD on Maryland's Eastern Shore. During a trip to this region we visited several sites associated with Harriet Tubman and her underground railroad. James McBride says in the author's notes that on a trip to this region and visit to Tubman's birthplace (which I also saw) this novel was born. The main character, Liz, has many of the personal traits of Tubman and like her was a runaway slave. This story raises the question as to who is real I picked this book up in a neat little bookstore in Easton, MD on Maryland's Eastern Shore. During a trip to this region we visited several sites associated with Harriet Tubman and her underground railroad. James McBride says in the author's notes that on a trip to this region and visit to Tubman's birthplace (which I also saw) this novel was born. The main character, Liz, has many of the personal traits of Tubman and like her was a runaway slave. This story raises the question as to who is really free as runaway black slaves, blacks who help the whites, white slave owners, white slave traders and alot of white folks who simply accept slavery as a given in different ways contend against and with one another to find freedom from their outer shackles and their inner demons. The plot is so complex it can't be easily summarized, but trust me it is a great read.

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