Friday, February 02, 2007

The Amalgamation Polka, by Stephen Wright

This book came from NetLibrary, was 11 hours and 46 minutes long, and was narrated by Michael Emerson.

This book was much better than its title, which is a derivative of one of the derogatory names for Abolitionists of the mid-19th century: Amalgamators.

Set before and during the American Civil War, this is a coming of age tale of both Liberty Fish and his mother, Roxana Maury. She grew up on a plantation surrounded, and nourished by, the institution of slavery in all its brutality. He grew up in a fiercely abolitionist family in Upstate New York.

Roxana meets Thatcher Fish in Saratoga, New York, where the female Maury's have gone on holiday after a huge family blowout on the morality of their existence. She bolts from the family after a final argument with her mother the same way she came into the world, naked. Wrapped only in a bed sheet, she seeks out the young man she has just met at their hotel, who shares her political viewpoint.

Liberty Fish, their son, grows up as a kind of abolitionist Huck Finn. His family's home is a stop on the Underground Railroad, and his life is full of odd characters. When the Civil War begins, he enlists, and begins a journey to his mother's ancestral home in South Carolina, where he confronts his slaver grandfather, who has morphed grotesquely into the Joseph Mengele of the South; performing experiments on his black servants in efforts to make them white.

This novel was both funny and revolting, and never boring. The prose is delightful to listen to. It transports you to a time when people were more literate, long before we were only computer literate. This is a 4 star book.

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