by Ellen Feldman
When you read Ellen Feldman’s book Scottsboro you savor each page like a vintage wine. The story is so mesmerizing tendrils seem to wrap around your chair. The story is so chillingly real you become frozen it its truth. The story is so poetically lyrical you have no doubt that you are hearing the cadence of the colorful Southern speech. Unfortunately, color in the Southern world is only black and white. Unfortunately, the truth in Scottsboro is always grey.
This historical fiction novel is based on the famous Scottsboro case in Alabama in 1931 and The Scottsboro Boys who were accused of a crime they didn’t commit. It is the story of nine black boys who were on a freight train. Unfortunately, for them, that same day two white girls, dressed in overalls, were also riding the same train. What they shared in common was poverty and riding the rails, as they all tried to get from place to place.
At an unscheduled stop the train slowed down and the two girls looked out to see a mob of forty to fifty white men brandishing pitchforks, shotguns, and at least some kind of weapon in their hands. A furious angry chase ensues as the mob is hell bent on capturing “niggers.”
Victoria Price and Ruby Bates are scared as dogs in a thunderstorm. They know a white woman being caught with a “nigger” is worse than being one. When the men discover that they are female, Victoria begins to invent her story accusing the nine captured boys of raping her and Ruby. Ruby is the younger of the two and follows along.
Blacks in Alabama in 1931 could just as easily been strung up by a rope, but the mob, feeling a sense of duty and fairness decide to bring them to town to be tried. Truth be told, they would rather that they die in the electric chair for their alleged crimes.
What follows is the story of Alice Whittier, a New York reporter, who persuades her boss to let her find the story. Alice takes on a quest that covers several decades as she digs for the truth. Her personal life and relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt becomes part of the story. Anti-Semitism is pervasive during this era and the story covers this theme as the lead defense attorney in the second trial is Samuel Leibowitz, a Jewish lawyer from New York. The importance of the Communist Party involvement in the case is also brought out in the book.
Class divisions are blurred as the white community in solidarity condemning the nine try to purify the image of the two girls, who are anything but virtuous. On the other hand, the defense tries to discredit Victoria and Ruby as a prostitute and white trash.
When Ruby Bates decides to alter her testimony, there is a ray of hope for the defense, but will it be enough to break down the walls of racial hatred that are embedded in the community and southern culture? Will the defense have a fair trial instead of the previous trial that was a travesty of southern justice?
Ellen Feldman’s writing is so deeply rich, her dialog begs to be read aloud. The voice of Ruby is brilliantly written and a treasure to savor. Not since Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, has the southern dialect been so artfully written and emulated with such poetic craft. Ruby is a complex emotional character in flux. Yet, her speech is always entertaining and genuine, down to earth and charming with a plethora of witty unforgettable similes.
This story may surprise and shock some who read it, but should it? The ugly truth is that Jim Crow did exist and still does today. This division of race was unfair, unjust, and hopelessly unbeatable. Books like Scottsboro are necessary to bring the truth forward as we continue to see racial and ethnic hatred in the global arena. The greatest fear is burying the past in ignorance. Ellen Feldman’s hypnotic historical fiction novel is destined to become a classic. Highly recommended.
Cross-posted on blogcritics.org
Wow - a very powerful review. You have definitely sold it to me. After reading Beloved and Mudbound, this is definitely a book I need to read to follow up on this kind of storyline. Great review and thanks for sharing.
I wanted to write a post on the Scottsboro case but it was so upsetting it was hard to do! It's just amazing what people can do to each other! Great review!
Such a great review. I agree with Scrap Girl - you've sold it to me, too. Thanks :)
What a fantastic review! I am quickly adding this one to my TBR!
A wonderful review, Donna! As Scrap Girl says, this sounds like a powerful book and well worth reading. Books like this make you wonder how often misjustices were carried out along similar lines because you know they did. It's tragic and sad.
What a great review; one more for my list. thanks so much
This sounds so good, i've added it to my wish list.
Wonderful review! This one is on my wish list...I can't wait to read it.
Terrific review. I still haven't decided if this one is for me or not!
I never heard of this book or story. It's amazing and sad, but somethiing that needs to be told. Brilliant review Wisteria. Thank you!
Scrapgirl..Thanks, I can't say enough about you'll see.
Rhapsody..I know difficult subject matter to handle when bigotry and hatred are the motivation.
Literary...Plenty of injustices then and unfortunately it continues even today.
To all of you: Thank you for the glowing praise of the review. When I am passionate about a book, the words flow. It is a sad story, but an important one to read. I'm glad I have persuaded most of you to read this book. I will be doing an interview with the author next week.
thanks for leaving the links to your review and interview on my review of SCOTTSBORO.
Your review is as riveting as the book itself - the description of black/white/grey in your opening paragraph is perfect.
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