“Only folks really own theyselves the ones know what they worth.” Here Marianne’s Nana sadly but wisely begins to share her history with Marianne, a history of slavery that shaped the African-American experience. The novel is ostensibly a retelling of Jim, the character who transforms Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. But this version speaks more about the desperation of slaves desperately yearning for freedom, hoping against hope, and determined to accomplish his goal or die in the process. The story is addressed to Marianne, who is trying to decide whether or not to marry Chas Freeman, a freeman who wants to fight with the Ninth Cavalry at Fort Robinson in Nebraska and forge his own free destiny.
In reality the story’s main focus is about Nana, whose goal is to survive the horrendous experiences of slavery, and who is frightened almost to paralysis about Jim’s unfolding plans to escape his slavery. Possessing the gift of healing, she is unable to prevent earthquakes, beatings, hangings, separation from one’s children, starvation, and unspeakable cruelties riddling the slave communities of southern America in pre-Civil war time.
She marries Jim, who maintains his ambitions and manages to become a plantation overseer. Yet this novel fills the gap missing in Twain’s Jim, the thorny scenes that shape such a wise and strong individual. Indeed the early simplicity of Jim in many scenes of Huckleberry Finn is never seen in My Jim.
This is a painfully wrenching but wonderful novel, adding an immense presentation to previous historical novels about this period of American history, one in which African-Americans begin to move from the darkest time of history to one of envisioned light and liberty. Highly recommended!