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Narrative of the Life of Frederick DouglassNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no doubt countless works written about slavery. The most famous that comes to mind is the epic ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley which is regarded as a keystone of Black historical fiction and the more contemporary, but equally compelling ‘Beloved’; Toni Morrison’s impenetrably abstract deconstruction of ‘slave psychology’ that explores the extremities of motherly love, death and the chains of freedom. Frederick Douglass’ autobiography may not be an epic, but his book definitely stands as a precious precursor to the aforementioned books. Because Douglass was a real-life pioneer of the abolition who not only managed to escape slavery, but who also went on to being a celebrated orator, secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, marshall and recorder of deeds in the district of Columbia and US Minister to Haiti.

Needless to say, this short narrative really does not do justice to the many deeds Douglass managed to achieve during his extraordinary life, but rather gives us insight into the mind of a born revolutionary and the things he suffered that eventually and inevitably led him to his profession. The most common thing about such men of destiny is a striking similarity in their sense of ‘belonging to a cause’ and a dogged determination in overcoming the overwhelming obstacles shared by their brethren. This coupled with an unusual sensitivity to suffering gives rise to men of the ilk of Castro, Guevara and Malcolm X: men with a mission to alleviate the dishonour and injustice inflicted upon a race, a country, a creed.

For those interested in first person accounts of slavery, this is an excellent place to start. On the positive side it is free and widely available to read download and read online. I got my edition from Kobo, but it can also be accessed quite easily via Goodreads on Douglass’ author page. Secondly, it is also a historical document and could quite easily be used as a reference in a thesis or other type of research on the subject.

Through his writing I could easily see how powerful an orator Douglass must have been, as his sketches of the various good and cruel characters he met during his life is very clearly and deftly made. His command of the English language also makes the narrative very easy to read and understand. He also has the wonderful ability to make some very clever and impassioned metaphors pertaining to slavery that I felt was quite unique.

Altogether this narrative is a very valuable piece of literature that I think everyone should read, as it’s not only a part of Black history but everyone’s history. It is testament to what a man can achieve if only he sets his mind to it and perseveres not matter what.

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