3 out of 4 stars
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C. J. Heigelmann’s debut novel, An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody, immediately immerses readers into a world of struggle and hardship, all borne on the shoulders of two children. Upon the death of his mother, Shu-Shay finds himself aboard a ship heading from China to California. On the other side of the world, a girl named Chimanda starts a long journey on a slave ship on her way to be renamed Victoria and installed as a house slave in Alabama. Both children fall into the best circumstances allowable to them at that time in history until they are caught up in the carnage wrought by the Civil War.
Heigelmann weaves a complex story that highlights human kindness and the darker side of our species. Using young children in dire situations, he illustrates that it only takes one person to have a deep impact on a life and their generations to follow. The inevitable start of the Civil War provides the author the catalyst to show how war can harden the heart, but he also illuminates how love can still be nurtured in the worst of circumstances.
At times, the reader is completely swept up by the emotions of the varying characters due to the imagery afforded through the text. Small details make it easy for a modern reader to identify with the life of an army scout, the complex interactions inherent to the master and slave relationship, and the harsh realities during and after the Civil War. At times, the book was reminiscent of a literary love child between Octavia Butler and Charles Frazier.
While the story was compelling and unpredictable, the text is in dire need of another hard edit. In addition to serial comma abuse, there were many instances of missing and incorrect words. Conversations were confusing due to the reaction or description of one character being included on the same line of speech as someone else. An ever-shifting point of view added to the confusion, especially when occurring mid-paragraph.
Despite the grammatical and mechanical limitations, the narrative of this novel was so compelling and interesting that I rate it 3 out of 4 stars. Readers who enjoy antebellum historical fiction or civil war history will find a lot to enjoy in this novel.
An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody is the story of America through the eyes of immigrants. Some came by choice looking for a better life, some came as accidental victims of circumstance, while some were sent to the New World as victims of greed. Regardless of how our ancestors came here, they have all contributed in the shaping of the history of our country and are emblematic of the wonderful diversity alive today. The truth of our origins as a country is something our society must never forget if we are to set aside our differences and work towards the ultimate goal of recognizing each other as members of one human family.
An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody
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