Friday, November 16, 2007

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Review by Becky Laney, frequent contributor

Becky's reviews can also be found at...

Elijah of Buxton is about as perfect as a book can get. What can I really say about it? It's historical fiction. It's set in Canada. It is about the community of Buxton--a safe haven for runaway slaves. The Canada border means one thing to a slave--ultimate freedom. Elijah was not a runaway slave. He was the first "free" child born into this community. He also holds the dubious honor of having thrown up on Frederick Douglass. (Elijah was an infant at the time.)

Doggone-it-all, seems like the things that people enjoy sticking to your name permanent ain't never good things, they're always things that are tragical. I ain't the kind of person that complains for no reason, but I gotta say, I already got one tragedy tied up with my name that is so horrible that it wouldn't be one bit fair that I'd get another. The tragedy that's so horrible put a scar on me that I'm-a be carrying till the day I die. You'd think growned folks would cry when they saw me, but that don't happen atall. Even Ma and Pa try to act like it ain't all that noticeable and that they ain't 'shamed to have folks see they're raising me, but I know better. It happened when I waren't nothing but a baby and I caint see why I'm to blame, but that's when the famousest, smartest man who ever escaped from slavery stood on a tall stage that had got built in the schoolhouse and raised me way up over his head in front of a crowd of people. From the way Pa tells it, the man must've had me twenty feet up in the air. He was giving a speech when the accident happened 'cause every time he made a point he'd give me a little shake way up there over top of his head. I waren't even a year old back when Mr. Frederick Douglass and Mr. John Brown visited Buxton. . . They'll tell you I throwed up on Mr. Douglass for a whole half a hour afore Ma come and snatched me away and pointed me out the schoolhouse window. They say I near drownded the man. Some folks swear I throwed up so hard that desks and chairs rose up and floated out of the schoolhouse. Mr. Polite said I throwed up so plentiful that didn't no deers nor rabbits die in the woods for five years after. He said the bears and the wolves et my vomit for that long since it was considerable easier for them to do that than to try to run down some animal that waren't looking to get et. And that don't make no sense. That don't make no sense atall. First off, 'cause they're always telling us how smart Mr. Frederick Douglass is. They tell us he can talk Greek like a Greek and Latin like a Latin, and anybody who's that smart ain't gonna sit and hold no baby over his head that's throwing up on him for no whole half a hour... (from chapter two)

The rich narrative style, the characters, everything is so well done, so perfect. Elijah is a great narrator. He gives a great portrait of his family, his friends, his community--from school to church and everything in between. The first two-thirds of the book has a relaxed framework. It's all about establishing the setting, getting to know the characters, just sitting back and enjoying story after story after story. But the last third of the book the plot becomes focused--centered--around one story in particular. Elijah and one of the men from the community, Mr. Leroy, set out to go to America. Mr. Leroy is hoping to buy his children out of slavery. But there are many problems and set backs along the way. The good news for Elijah is that finally he has a chance to redeem himself and get something good attached to his name. It is his chance to be a hero.

I loved this book so much. I definitely recommend this one to one and all--young and old.

Mr Travis, when he's being our Sabbath school teacher, says the Lord rested on Sunday and commanded us to do the same. But, doggone-it-all, that's one lesson that ain't sticking too good with him and all the other growned folks 'cause half of every Sunday ain't spent resting, it's spent in church. And whilst Ma and Pa say church ain't work, some of the time if I had my druthers, I'd druther clean five stables and dig two miles of drainage ditch and clear three acres of woodland than sit through a whole morning and afternoon of church. . . I ain't trying to show no disrespect. . . Reverend King's a mighty good man, after all he is the one that started the Settlement, I am saying his sermons go on so long that some of the time you feel like begging, "Take me now, Jesus" 'bout halfway through'em. (201-202)

1 Comment:

Framed said...

Great review. This books sounds like it belongs on my TBR list.

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