The famous photos of abolitionist/feminist Sojourner Truth show a dignified old lady with strong African features wearing a lace cap and an immaculate shawl. It's hard to imagine her as a child, or even a young woman, but Jacqueline Sheehan does this skillfully in her novelization of Sojourner's long and eventful life, Truth. Lucid, suspenseful and bitterly humorous, the book traces Sojourner's life from an early 19th-century childhood spent in slavery in upstate New York to her emergence as an abolitionist itinerant preacher renamed Sojourner Truth in 1843 by God Himself.

Born in 1797 and named Isabella after the Spanish queen by her master, Sojourner is blessed to spend some of her childhood with her deeply spiritual parents, Bomefree (meaning tree in low Dutch, because he stood so straight and tall as a young man) and Mau Mau Bett, who love each other and their children as best they can. While Sheehan tweaks some of the facts surrounding Isabella/Sojourner's life, the descriptions of the family's experience as slaves are stunning.

After her master's death, Isabella and her younger brother are sold, and neither she nor her parents ever hear from him again. Sheehan follows the young girl as she endures a cruel, English-speaking master who won't even give her boots for the winter. Her mistress, Sally Dumont, takes the unhappiness of her own life out on Isabella. Yet few people are irredeemably evil in Sheehan's reckoning, and the complexities of the characters are another attractive element of her book. Eventually, Sojourner redeems her son from slavery in Alabama, makes the famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech in Akron, Ohio, meets with Frederick Douglass and a beleaguered Abraham Lincoln to end up, to the reader's relief, living a comfortable old age in Battle Creek, Michigan. Truth is an intriguing book about a woman of towering strength and integrity. Arlene McKanic writes from Jamaica, New York.

comments powered by Disqus