Good Fortune follows the life of a young African-American woman in the early 1800s from her childhood and capture in Africa, her slavery in Tennessee, and her escape north to Dayton, Ohio to her establishment of a new life in freedom.
The pro-education bent of this story and the Harvard credentials of its author guarantee that this novel will be widely assigned in middle and upper school classrooms. I, however, think there are better evocations of the experience of slavery, Morrison’s Beloved for example, or even Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The author ill-prepares us for action and emotion. The flashbacks to Africa were too vague, just confusing instead of preparing our heroine for her life. Our heroine’s name is first Sarah, then Anna, with overtones of an African name and then, only at the very end, are we told that her African name was something that means “Good Fortune.” It would have been so much more effective if we had experienced in real time how she received and balked at her English name and learned how she came to be adopted in the family of Mary and Daniel. The setting is poorly drawn, few colors are evoked, and few time-appropriate crafts are explored. I did not believe the flight north because the terrain didn’t seem real. Couldn’t we have had some tree names at least, some more meshing with the environment as surely would happen for people not raised in modern cities. Too much is told in dialogue rather than shown. Even the act of learning to read seemed described as if by someone who’d never done it.