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ARC Review: The Divorce Colony

The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier by April White April White’s The Divorce Colony is set during the Gilded Age, in the America of the late 1800s. It revolves around the lax divorce rules then to be found in South Dakota.  Today, getting divorced is almost easier than getting married. But in the Gilded Age, divorces were not so easy to obtain. Divorce was viewed as a moral concern for the state, and was denounced from the pulpit for threatening the sanctity of marriage. Even President Theodore Roosevelt spoke out against it.  Laws around divorce tended to be most lax on the frontiers of the United States. By the 1880s the territory of Dakota gained the dubious honor of posting the largest rise in divorces in the country. At the turn of the century one city - Sioux Falls, South Dakota - gained a reputation for having the laxest divorce laws of all, and required only a three month residency in order to take advantage of them

Review: Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading "Gods of the Upper Air" earlier this year, I wanted to learn more about or read something from Zora Neal Hurston. I found her to be one of the most sympathetic people portrayed in that book.

This book, Barracoon, was published posthumously and is based on her interviews with Cudjo Lewis (African name Kossula) who was then thought to be the only remaining American who had survived the Middle Passage. His entire village in Africa was captured for slaving and he come across to America with many of his fellow villagers in the Clotilda, the last known slave ship that arrived in Mobile in 1859, more than 50 years after the importation of African slaves had been outlawed.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book and I found it fascinating and the story of Kossola's life profoundly sad. The book is written in "the vernacular", meaning that Hurston, a trained anthropologist, recorded Cudjo's story using the language he spoke in the manner he spoke it. She felt his manner of speaking was an important part of his story and refused when requested by potential publishers to modify it into standard English. Listening to the Robin Miles reading really helped bring Cudjo's tale to life for me - she did a fantastic job.

Roughly half the book is Kossola telling his tale to Hurston. There is a lengthy introduction giving background on Hurston and her work in Mobile. Having come to this book from reading the "Gods of the Upper Air" I found this part interesting, though others may not. The end of the book is a set of African tales that Kossola told Hurston, that are not part of his life story but are likely added by Hurston the anthropologist as a way of adding some detail regarding Kossola's cultural background.

Hurston's decision to have the book written in the vernacular, and in telling a tale that acknowledges the role of Africans in the slave trade (Kossola's village was captured by forces of the prince of Dahomey, and their treatment by them was brutal) are reasons often given for why the book did not find a publisher until after her death. NPR did a piece on this that may be of interest to others who read this book - https://www.npr.org/2018/05/05/608723...