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But so much succeeds in this book: the fascinating (if prurient) scenes of quick-draw surgery (a kidney stone removed in eighty seconds ); the filth of mid-Enlightenment London; the brilliant trip through Europe to St. Petersburg during a snowy winter; the mysterious house of Mr. Canning, the rich hermaphrodite. The end of the book is entirely unexpected, though we know, from the first scene, that Dyer will die young; the last chapters have the lovely quality of a summer river easing itself through a meadow, and strike a sustained note of calm rare in fiction. (MB) Sojourner Truth:A Life, A Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter Norton, 1996, 370 pp., $28 In recent years Sojourner Truth has become as much a part of the American cultural landscape as Malcom X or Nefertiti. Her stern but motherly face appears on everything from Tshirts to postage stamps. The same image always finds its way into American history survey texts, frequently accompanied by a few lines from her famous "Ar'n't I a Woman" speech and a fleeting mention of her involvement with the pantheon of elite giants of the abolitionist movement . But despite her tremendous contemporary exposure, surprisingly little is known about the woman behind the icon. In this new biography, NeU Irvin Painter attempts to disentangle fact from fiction and chart Truth's journey from obscurity to her present fame. The result is a riveting portrait of an American prophet. Bom in Ulster County, New York around 1797, Sojourner Truth spent the better part of two decades in bondage before she escaped and was eventually emancipated by the New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827. Under her given name, Isabella, she became involved with religious groups—first the Pentecostals and then the more radical cult of the Kingdom of Matthias—and soon realized her natural oratorical powers. After changing her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843, she became an itinerant preacher before finally settling in the industrial commune of Northampton. Forming a close relationship with Frederick Douglass, she redirected her energies toward abolitionism, and from this point on interacted with some of the most influential black and white activists of the age. Financed by the American Anti-Slavery Society, she traveled the countryside, attesting to the evils of slavery, and was among the society's most effective platform speakers. As the women's suffrage movement gained momentum in the 1850s, Truth was the first prominent African-American woman to become associated with what was then an almost exclusively white cause. With sincerity, quick wit, a deep voice and a large frame, Sojourner Truth was an imposing presence. Painter points out that Sojourner Truth was a much moré complex figure than is generally recognized. She was an independent black woman who could think for herself; yet she realized that her life was her only capital and that her public image must be carefully cultivated. In this way Sojourner Truth was invented and reinvented—partly by herself but also by predominantly white friends and associates. Despite the The Missouri Review · 223 fact that she could not read or write, her forceful words—whether spoken or recalled in print by others— were important in furthering the debate on slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War. Her ghostwritten autobiography, published in 1850, has always been regarded as a key salvo in the abolitionist's literary arsenal; and the famous account of her "Arn't I a Woman" speech delivered at the Women's Rights Convention of 1851—a scathing attack on male attitudes towards women— still reverberates in the contemporary world. Exhaustive and masterfully researched, scholarly yet accessible, Painter's book is an important and much-needed addition to our understanding of black women's history. (BR) Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon Henry Holt, 1997, 773 pp., $27.50 Thomas Pynchon's novel, long rumored to be in the works, is about the two English surveyors who surveyed the line between Maryland and Pennsylvania that would later divide the North and South. Early sections of the book concern their astronomical observations, from Capetown and St. Helena, of the transit of Venus. Mason & Dixon is similar in heft (almost 800 pp.) and method...


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pp. 213-214
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