By Jacqueline Sheehan
(Free Press, Hardcover, 9780743244442, 294pp.)
Publication Date: July 1, 2003
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"I rode to earth on the backside of a comet." So begins Jacqueline Sheehan's marvelous debut novel, based largely on the early life of Sojourner Truth. Born at the turn of the nineteenth century to slaves of a New York State Dutch gentleman farmer, young Isabella was sold off at the age of nine to a succession of owners -- some cruel, some indifferent, all assuming that she, as a colored girl, would never feel or think as anything but a child. On the contrary, Isabella has dreams and fears and a deeply felt faith that somehow sees her through the indignities and beatings she must tolerate.
Once Isabella achieves her hard-won freedom, however, the path she walks as Sojourner Truth is riddled with obstacles: her son, still a slave, is sold south into the harshest of brutalities, only to be saved by her relentless efforts to wrest him back. Her young daughters must likewise remain enslaved until they come of age, their family scattered and adrift. Her newfound religion leads her into a cultish environment of frauds and charlatans, and she narrowlyavoids being accused of the murder of a dearly loved friend. Ultimately, she triumphs against the most enormous of odds and reunites her family under one roof, only to be called by God to speak out against slavery and for women's rights as long as she draws breath.
In a feat of literary ventriloquism, Jacqueline Sheehan puts the story back in Sojourner's voice, lending the telling a naked, crystalline quality that transports the reader to a time when survival could mean sacrificing little pieces of one's soul. "Truth" is a testament to one woman's strength, a powerful lesson in courage.