Syphax on Books Highlights: James McBride

When looking at any historically based, literary prose, (especially those which rest within the “African American Experience), particular works come […]


When looking at any historically based, literary prose, (especially those which rest within the “African American Experience), particular works come to mind. “The Narrative’s of Fredrick Douglas,” is one, James Baldwin’s classic novel, “Go Tell it On the Mountain” or Richard Wright’s masterpiece, “Black Boy“.

Added to that list of timeless writers is James Mc Bride!

But he is not a new comer to this field.

James Mc. Bride has written a host of Best Selling novels, giving us a literary track record which reads like an all-star roster in the NBA! His debut book, “The Color of Water” was an instant best seller and an Oprah’s, Book Club Choice. That success was then followed up by another best seller, “Miracle at Saint Anna,” which later was adapted into a film by Spike Lee. Now, his third novel, “Song Yet Sung,” is no exception.

Stirring with a true insightful voice that leaps from the page, we are told the story of Liz, a runaway slave who we follow in her pursuit to freedom as she fights to break away from her vicious slave master, Patty Canon. During her struggles  Liz is guided by a set of codes(hidden languge created by the slaves themselves), bestowed on her by another slave. These are codes which mask a hidden message that might inevitably hold the key to Liz’s possible freedom.

To some readers, this  narrative tone might be somewhat sound familiar,and, maybe overdone. This story of this particualr type of enslavement, to some, has become a standard theme for “African American” authors. The idea of going home or discovering a sense of meaning where one might not truly exist is not new, but that is where the ingenuity of Mc Bride’s writing exist. This is where Mc Bride connects those universal ideas of language and freedom in a way that might all but be forgotten by other authors in this modern age. Mc Bride is not, in any way, shape or form, “preaching to the quire,” nor is he telling you, the reader, how to think or feel. No line and/or paragraph is flashing a neon sign saying, “slavery is bad, slavery is bad! Don’t be prejudice! It’s up to us!” No, in his writing you are not let off the hook that easily. Rather, he lays back on his themes, telling the story by showing a series of actions reaction reactions and letting it all play out, whilethis
re-working a rather unconventional but moving narrative form.

There is one simple truth, though, through out the book that’s not to be taken lightly…

“It ain’t the song but the singer of it.”(Pg. 18, Song Not Yet Sung).

Simply put, “Song Yet Sung” is a harrowing look at one women’s push towards freedom and, hence, herself; creating an unflinching literary triumph that mirrors a dazzling glimpse into the reader’s greater self. My guess is that it will become a classic for generations to come.

And for all you literary crazed readers(that includes me), I would suggest to keep an eye out for Mr. Mc Bride’s future novels. I have a feeling this author’s literary legacy is just taking shape.

P.S.: If you like this book, you might want to check out his earlier work, “The Color Of Water“, “Miracle at St. Anna“, and, of course, “Song Yet Sung,”and don’t be surprised if you see this book as a Oprah Book Club Choice. Just remember, you heard it here first.

Leave a Reply