Book Review – Imperium in Imperio by Sutton E. Griggs

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Self-published in 1899 and sold door-to-door by the author, this classic African-American novel—a gripping exploration of oppression, miscegenation, exploitation, and black empowerment—was a major bestseller in its day. The dramatic story of a conciliatory black man and a mulatto nationalist who grow up in a racist America and are driven to join a radical movement dedicated to the creation of an all-black nation in Texas, Imperium in Imperio had a profound influence on the development of black nationalism.

Review:

This was the first book I read from my list of five free books by black authors and I’m very glad I chose it as it was a very good, very engaging read and a fascinating insight into the views of Sutton Griggs at the end of the 19th century. I also feel it is a very important novel regarding Black History, and would definitely recommend it as reading for Black History Month.

As the synopsis says, the novel follows the story of two men from childhood as they grow up in the American South. Belton is the son of a poor mother who recognises the importance of education and ensures that he attends school and learns as much as he can. One of his classmates, Bernard, is the son of what appears to be a single mother but is later revealed that his father was white and for appearances sake, can not acknowledge his wife or son however he uses all his resources to help him succeed. The two children are both incredibly intelligent and upon graduation, Belton goes to Stowe College while Bernard attends Harvard. The two eventually meet again when Belton gets into some legal troubles and again when he invites Bernard to join the Imperium in Imperio, an organisation dedicated to supporting their fellow black citizens and attempting to better their lives.

Throughout the novel, both characters have to deal with a lot of racism, both institutional and personal. It’s particularly noticed when Belton is in Louisiana where they are even more racist than his home as he is ejected from the first class carriage on the train that he was riding. The novel addresses issues that face those that are educated as they are blocked from most jobs requiring a degree due to the colour of their skin, but they can’t take menial labour jobs as they are too educated as it would be seen as throwing away their education. The themes of this novel are very strong and both characters have very strong views on the empowerment of their race although they differ on how this equality is to be achieved.

The story alone is an enjoyable read and the writing is very good, however the underlying messages and ideas are incredible and I really enjoyed the emphasis it placed on the importance of education. This is definitely a fantastic and worthwhile read and I would definitely recommend it to everybody.

Five FREE Speculative Fiction Novels by Black Authors

As it’s Black History Month, I’m focusing on works by black authors and I’m lucky enough to have access to some great libraries and be able to afford to buy books. However, I know not everybody is as fortunate as me, and I know people love free things, so I’ve compiled this list of five speculative fiction novels by black authors that are in the public domain. These books are completely free! If you click on the cover, it’ll bring you to either the Project Gutenberg or the Archive.org page for each novel. The first three can also be found for free on Amazon while the last two are only available on Archive.org. For the final two, I recommend downloading the PDF as the other formats aren’t as readable.

 

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The Conjure Women by Charles W. Chesnutt is, according to Wikipedia, the first known speculative fiction collection written by a person of color.

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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.

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Self-published in 1899 and sold door-to-door by the author, this classic African-American novel—a gripping exploration of oppression, miscegenation, exploitation, and black empowerment—was a major bestseller in its day. The dramatic story of a conciliatory black man and a mulatto nationalist who grow up in a racist America and are driven to join a radical movement dedicated to the creation of an all-black nation in Texas, Imperium in Imperio had a profound influence on the development of black nationalism.

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Of One Blood first appeared in serial form in Colored American Magazine in the November and December 1902 and the January 1903 issues of the publication, during the four-year period that Hopkins served as its editor.
Hopkins tells the story of Reuel Briggs, a medical student who couldn’t care less about being black and appreciating African history, but finds himself in Ethiopia on an archeological trip. His motive is to raid the country of lost treasures — which he does find in the ancient land. However, he discovers much more than he bargained for: the painful truth about blood, race, and the half of his history that was never told.

Note -Download the PDF version as due to the fact it was originally doubled columned, when OCR was used it resulted in an imperfect text version.

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An early example of Afrofuturistic writing, this 1904 novel is the first imagining of a realistic post racist society in America. The protagonist loses control of an airship in 1906 and awakens in 2006 to find that, much to his surprise, America has made many strides towards becoming an egalitarianism.

Note – Again, the PDF version of this is recommended as the text is constantly interrupted by the page headers

 

All book covers and descriptions taken from Goodreads

Have you read, or do you plan to read any of these? Let me know!