An opinionated novel of Twain
Mark Twain Remembers is a fictitious account of a major American literary figure looking back at an incident which changed his life forever. It is a novel, but -- as would be any book attempting to be a speculative biography -- it is also opinionated. A substantial portion of the book and at least two complete chapters are devoted almost solely to the themes of slavery and God. The novel begins with Twain speculating about who will win a major boxing match after the turn of the century: A black man, or a white man. Twain is not sure who he hopes will win and it brings back the memory of a former slave. Twain then tells about himself, what the world was like when he was born, and the experiences that made him the man he is (although fictional in this particular case).
Mark Twain Remembers follows the adventures of Twain from a man who has never shaken hands with a black man to a man who owns one. Twain wins a slave in a poker game for the single purpose of setting him free, but the black man won't take his freedom out of fear of what such freedom means. A friendship develops, and a lot of understanding as well.
If one has followed the unfair remarks against Mark Twain over the years, regarding his literary portrayals of minority characters set in the late 1800s (some people even suggesting that his books be banned from schools), one cannot help but think that Thomas Hauser wrote this novel in response to those allegations of prejudice. "To arrive at a just estimate of a man's character, one must judge him by the standards of his time," Hauser writes in the voice of Twain. Mark Twain wrote America as he saw it then. The novel implies that if Twain wrote today, his subject matter would be different. The caricatures would probably be much worse, but we wouldn't see it.
Clay Stafford is a writer and filmmaker.