Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Confessions of Nat Turner (by William Styron)

This one was a little complicated for me. First off, it is a really really good book. Well written, gripping, a fascinating story, interestingly structured, and definitely not what I was expecting, which was an unrelenting and grim look at the abuses of slavery. I mean, Styron doesn't gloss over anything, but his take is fresh and different, and not without humor or complexity. He does give Nat, a slave, a very elevated and formal diction throughout, but I interpreted it as capturing the complexity of his thoughts, rather than a literal representation of his education. And it feels well-researched and authentic. 
However, as Styron's afterword discusses, it does seem fairly presumptuous that this book was written at all--that Styron is assuming the voice of Nat Turner, an important figure in African-American history, and inventing his motives. Styron is very defensive in the afterword as well, and name dropping his friend "Jimmy Baldwin" left and right, which is very "but one of my best friends is black!" of him. I really think he had good intentions and maybe he's right that the initial wave of African-American criticism about the book isn't or wasn't entirely fair. But I'd like to read current African-American criticism on the book. I trust black voices on the black experience more than Styron's, fair or not.

But it is a really good book anyway.



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