Book Review – Iola Leroy by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A landmark account of the African American experience during the Civil War and its aftermath

First published in 1892, this stirring novel by the great writer and activist Frances Harper tells the story of the young daughter of a wealthy Mississippi planter who travels to the North to attend school, only to be sold into slavery in the South when it is discovered that she has Negro blood. After she is freed by the Union army, she works to reunify her family and embrace her heritage, committing herself to improving the conditions for blacks in America.

Through her fascinating characters-including Iola’s brother, who fights at the front in a colored regiment-Harper weaves a vibrant and provocative chronicle of the Civil War and its consequences through African American eyes in this critical contribution to the nation’s literature.

Review:

This is another of the books from my list of free speculative fiction books by black authors and was again a fantastic read. The novel focused on the story of Iola Leroy who lives through the civil war and emancipation and focuses on the impact this has both on her family and on the wider community.

At first, Iola is unaware of her heritage (her mother was a freed slave that married her father) and due to unfortunate circumstances, she is sold into slavery until the army rescues her during the civil war where she becomes a nurse. The tale follows her life throughout the war and afterwards as she attempts to find her mother and brother who she has not seen since she was sold. Throughout all this, Iola and her family are very focused on their rights and despite the fact that they are all able to pass as white, they all refuse to do this and commit themselves to improving conditions for the former slaves in the south.

The book is a fascinating look at the racial tensions during this period and is a very powerful look at slavery. The fact that Iola at first is unaware of how truly awful slavery is until she herself experiences is something that can resonate with you as you read as you are exposed to the brutality of it alongside her. The focus after the war of trying to reunite families that had been torn apart was very emotional and I feel this book is an excellent book to read if you want to focus more on the experience of former slaves after emancipation. I feel it’s a very important novel, especially as it was written by a free black woman that lived through that time period herself

I strongly recommend this book as I feel it is very important to read and I did also find it very enjoyable as the writing is very well done and I really cared about Iola and indeed all the characters we meet were lovely.

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