I started and finished Barracoon in just under four days. I honestly don’t know how to write this review. Full disclosure, book reviews aren’t my forte in general (which you may have figured out if you’ve read any of my others). However, reviewing Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon feels strange. She was brilliant, and scholars and biographers have studied her and her work. I don’t have anything to add there. The book is Kissola’s recollection of his life in Africa, being enslaved, and then being free from enslavement. There is no room to judge the quality of the narrative, because it’s simply his life – we can’t ask that it be anything it’s not.
Therefore, I feel as though I can only speak to my experience reading it. Reading Barracoon at this particular moment feels appropriate. Reminding, or for some people learning, about the experience of enslaved people is an important piece in acknowledging our history and seeking to better our present. My heart broke for Kissola and the pain and suffering he had to endure, I can’t imagine losing my entire family – first with the swiftness with which he was stolen in Africa and then with the slow loss of his children and wife in Alabama. But I also can’t stop thinking about the millions (literally) of others who endured similar experiences and whose stories will go forever untold. I wish I had something profound to add here, but I don’t.
In putting these words together, I tried to find what I wanted to say, how to tie this all together… Specifically, as it relates to the movement we are standing in the middle of right now. And I don’t really have those words. But others do. Look for Black authors, Black creators, Black educators, and Black people to listen to. And really listen. Educate yourself. Take action. Read Barracoon, and then keep reading. If we want to dismantle the system, we need to know the system we are dismantling. And we need to know why the system needs to be dismantled.
With each review of Barracoon that we post, we will include a link to an #ownvoices review from a Black reader. I’d like to share with you Dr. Kira Gold’s thoughts on Barracoon: