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March 7, 2021
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Books Historical Novels The QBR 100


JubileeJubilee (1966) is a historical novel written by Margaret Walker, which focuses on the story of a biracial enslaved woman during the American Civil War. It is set in Georgia and later in various parts of Alabama in the mid-19th century before, during, and after the Civil War.

“When Margaret Walker’s grandmother used to tell her stories about her mother’s life as a slave on a southern plantation, Walker vowed that shw would one day share those stories with the world. Jubilee is not only the fictional recounting of Walker’s great-grandmother’s life, it is also a black woman’s view of the political, economic, and social structure of the plantation system before the Civil War–a powerful response to the gilded images of plantation life found in novels such as Gone with the Wind.

Through the story of Vyry Brown, a fierce and fearless black woman, daughter of an enslaved woman and enslaver, Jubilee focuses on the sound and textures of everyday life on a plantation for a black woman. It is also among the first books to describe the tricky relationship between black women and white women, a relationship whose intimate roots in slavery are discussed here.

The novel is divided into three sections: The first, “Sis Hetta’s Child–the Ante-Bellum Years,” covers Vyry’s childhood and first encounters with the sorrows of love under the slave system. It ends with a failed escaped attempt. the second section, “My Eyes Have Seen the Glory,” examines yry’s life as a nurse during the Civil war. The final section, “Forty Years in the Wilderness–Reconstruction and Reaction,” covers the period after emancipation, when Vyry and her family face new troubles–natural disasters, the Ku Klus Klan, and the abounding racism of the South after the Civil War. In every phase of life Vyry meets her challenges with grit, intellignece, grace and strength.

Jubilee was lauded for its warm, engaging prose and its authenticity… The book is noteworthy for its presentation of a heroic African-American woman born in slavery. It is astounding that anyone could think that black women survived the abuse and exploitation of slavery without immense reserves of strength, wits, and courage, but America had chosen happy, hysterical and mindless mammies and pickaninnies as the popular image of antebellum black womanhood. Smart, tough Vyry was a wonderful correction to those stereotypes.” –Sacred Fire: The QBR 100 Essential Black Book.

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