It is not often that I hear of a “new” book by a classic author, but Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston never was published during her lifetime due to the subject matter: interviews from the 1920s with one of the last enslaved people from Africa. Finally, it was published in 2018. Now, Ibram X. Kendi has adapted and edited this unique collection of interviews for young readers (published by Amistad Books for Young Readers, January 2024). Barracoon (for Young Readers) is a first person narration of Zora Neale Hurston’s 1920s interviews with Cudjo Lewis. As one of the last Blacks kidnapped from Africa as a part of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Cudjo (born Kossula) was illegally brought to America in 1860. Although his “owners” faced consequences for their illegal actions, he and the others kidnapped with him were not freed until the Emancipation Proclamation. Even then, returning to their African home was not an option.
The majority of Cudjo’s speech was in Ebonics, which Zora Neale Hurston explained in the beginning notes. Likewise, spelling of some of the speech conventions were adapted by Kendi in this young reader’s version. I cannot compare it to the original volume, but from my perspective, Kendi’s adaption met his goals: It gave Cudjo a voice and provided an age-appropriate glimpse into the end of the slave trade in America, as well as the consequences and pains that came to those kidnapped.
The book was stream of consciousness and therefore somewhat hard to follow. Especially with the dialectical speech, the text would most likely be best appreciated by young adults. It is a difficult subject, after all. Zora Neale Hurston tells of her interviews with Cudjo from her perspective “I went to visit ….” and so forth. Her story of Cudjo’s story feels very matter of fact as we are brought onto the porch to listen to the man’s story, he with tears in his eyes, even sixty years after he was kidnapped.
Barracoon did capture hopelessness that penetrated early adult life of one kidnapped and taken to a foreign land to be enslaved . Cudjo finds it difficult to tell his story. His emotions are real and raw as he talks about his childhood and his feelings while traveling to America via the Middle Passage. Hurston has skillfully captured the essential story of one of history’s oppressed. His story finally can be told to the world after one hundred years.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.