Item description for The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings: Revised Edition (Penguin Classics) by Olaudah Equiano & Vincent Carretta...
Overview Relates the experiences of an African prince who was kidnapped into slavery in 1755 and followed his various masters from the Americas to Europe and through the Caribbean.
Completely revised and edited with an introduction and notes by Vincent Carretta
An exciting and often terrifying adventure story, as well as an important precursor to such famous nineteenth-century slave narratives as Frederick Douglass's autobiographies, Olaudah Equiano's The InterestingNarrative recounts his kidnapping in Africa at the age of ten, his service as the slave of an officer in the British Navy, his ten years of labor on slave ships until he was able to purchase his freedom in 1766, and his life afterward as a leading and respected figure in the antislavery movement in England. A spirited autobiography, a tale of spiritual quest and fulfillment, and a sophisticated treatise on religion, politics, and economics, The Interesting Narrative is a work of enduring literary and historical value.
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Studio: Penguin Classics
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 7.74" Width: 5.14" Height: 0.81" Weight: 0.65 lbs.
Release Date May 27, 2003
Publisher Penguin Classics
Series Penguin Classics
ISBN 0142437166 ISBN13 9780142437162 UPC 051488011002
Availability 0 units.
More About Olaudah Equiano & Vincent Carretta
About the Introducer: ROBERT REID-PHARR, one of the country's leading scholars of early African-American literature, is a professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He lives in Brooklyn. About the Editor: SHELLY EVERSLEY is an assistant professor of American literature at Baruch College, specializing in African-American literature and culture. She is the author of Integration and Its Discontents and coeditor of Race and Sexuality.
Reviews - What do customers think about The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings: Revised Edition (Penguin Classics)?
The Interesting Narrative Jan 30, 2008
The Interesting Narrative (1789) is one of the earliest "slave narratives", a genre that includes classics such as Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) and neo-slave narratives like Alex Haley's Roots (1976), Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987) and Edward P. Jones' The Known World (2003). What makes Olaudah Equiano's account unique is that is was the first slave narrative to find a wide audience, and it is not hard to understand why - not only is it a good story, but it is very well written, almost literary - it sold so well it was a cornerstone in bringing about public sympathy and support for the abolition of the slavery in England.
Just about everything we know about Olaudah Equiano is from his autobiography. He was born around 1745 in Africa, kidnapped and enslaved at the age of 10 or 11 and shipped across the Middle Passage to the West Indies, and soon after to a Virginia plantation (he was too small to work the sugar cane fields). From there he had the good fortune to be purchased by the captain of a British warship, where he learned English manners, language and customs - and a promise of freedom. But, in one of the great blows of his life, he was tricked and sold back into slavery in the West Indies, where he worked on merchant ships for a number of years, finally able to save enough money (trading fruits and rum between ports of call) to buy his freedom in his early 20s. He then spent years as a freed man working on merchant and military ships traveling extensively around the Atlantic, including a trip to the Arctic. His close calls with death were many, including disease, shipwrecks and run-ins with whites who would beat him to within an inch of his life. Equiano eventually settled down in England, married a white girl, had two children and died a wealthy and respected gentleman, a remarkable achievement for a former African slave in the 18th century.
_The Interesting Narrative_ can be read on multiple levels. It is a fascinating first-hand document of 18th century British mercantilism, showing the Atlantic "Golden Triangle" in action. It is a story of Christian redemption - by following the teachings of the Bible, and those who transgress against it, Equiano explains why things turn out how they do. It is one of the great works of travel literature; exotic locales and death-defying adventures fill the pages. It is a powerful expose of 18th century slavery, unflinchingly detailing the institutionalized horrors and how both victim and victimizer are turned into animals. It is a call for action to end the slave trade.
In the end, we read books like this today with a certain amount of curious detachment, it has been about 150 years since slavery ended - or has it? Some 27 million slaves - more than twice the number of people taken from Africa during the entire 350 year history of the Africa slave trade - today toil in rich and poor countries around the world. Most Americans probably know more about slavery as it once existed, than as it is currently being practiced in their own time, directly touched by the cheap goods we purchase. Reading Equiano's account we can't help but be moved against slavery, all slavery, historical or contemporary, and for that the book has immortal value.
Beauty from Ashes Sep 13, 2005
Of all the firsthand accounts known to us as "slave narratives," Vassa's description is unique in many ways. To begin with, he takes his readers all the way back to his African roots, shedding historically-confirmed light on almost lost ancient traditions. His discussion of the harrowing and epically sad capture and separation of he and his sister are among the most moving in this genre.
He then describes the despicable, inhumane conditions in the holds of the slave ships with a "you-are-there" writing style. Again, confirmed by other sources, these are some of the most often quoted accounts in historical texts. In this same chronological phase, Vassa also depicts the shared empathy among the enslave Africans, helping us to see how they collaborated to survive.
His ongoing narrative offers one of the more balanced looks at slavery. Vassa clearly tells the horrors of this evil system and the people responsible for it. At the same time, he often shares accounts of Europeans and White Americans who befriended him. In fact, his positive statements about non-Africans lend further credence to his critique of the many evils of slavery.
His narrative also contains unique elements in his descriptions of his path toward freedom and his life as a freeman. We learn that in his era, for a man of his race, it was barely more tolerable to be free, given the hatred that he still endured.
Though some reviewers tend to minimize or criticize it, his conversion narrative is classic. In fact, it may well have been the standard from which later testimonies were crafted about how "God struck me dead." Perhaps the evangelical nature of his conversion turns off some. However, if we are to engage Vassa in his other accounts, we must engage him here. Further, coming as it did later in his life, it is easy to see how his account of his entire life is entirely shaped by his conversion experience. Clearly, Vassa sees even the evils that he has suffered as part of a larger plan. In doing so he never suggests that God condones the evils of slavery. Rather, he indicates that God created beauty from ashes.
Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of "Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction," and of "Soul Physicians" and "Spiritual Friends."
Amazing Primary Source History Jun 28, 2005
Hemingway said of Tillie Olsen's "Tell Me a Riddle" that, however many readers it may have, it will never have enough. He expressed my feelings about this book. Yes, the "Autobiography of Frederick Douglass" is critical to achieve an understanding of the obscenities of black slavery in the New World, but Equiano's remarkable account dramatizes it in ways even more diverse. He summarizes in his single life the whole span of slavery, from his kidnapping as a child from Africa to the fiendish brutality of Caribbean sugar plantations. But he is also a celebration of the indomitability of the human spirit at its most resilient: from his insistence, against all odds, on his own worth as a person, his acquisition of seafaring and business skills, his achievement not only of literacy but of an Englishman's 18th century eloquence. I didn't think I could learn more about the particular brutalities of slavery, but I did. An example: in the Caribbean some slavemasters "rented out" their slaves by the day to other masters for excruciating toil. Their temporary masters sometimes "forgot" to feed them lunch, and moreover sometimes sent them back to their masters without payment. For retribution, their masters then beat the slaves! This was a new twist for me, and reminded me that the psychological torture--imagining the starved and exhausted slaves returning to their masters, knowing what was awaiting--often outstripped physical torture for cruelty. But this is no litany of abuses, and Equiano is careful to spare us gratuitous outrages. He lived the equivalent of five or six lives within his timespan, and the book likewise breaks up into episodes: the African years--during which he chronicles a clime of abundant food and privileged childhood; his adventures at sea, serving several captains on mercantile ships that faced enemy fire and perils of every kind; his strivings to buy his freedom in the Caribbean and North America; his conversion to Christianity; and his settling as a freeman in England with marriage to a British wife. As with most primary source documents, there are lulls in the narrative. The writing about the author as a Christian aware of his "sins" (he who has so overwhelmingly sinned against) is as familiar as it is ironic. Episodes in the seafaring accounts will be of more interest to afficionados of Melville or Conrad. But what is finally amazing is Equiano's moderation and modesty in describing a most remarkable life. One wonders how many hundreds of thousands of uprooted Africans succumbed to the brutalization and denial of their self-worth for every one who managed to salvage some shred of dignity, but one is nevertheless grateful to Equiano for putting his own example in writing. It is writing for the ages. I wonder whether it should be required reading, for high school students, for example. Perhaps it's a bit too difficult or tedious for everyone in that age group. But at the very least it should be mentioned in the same breath as Douglass's books. I was 62 before I'd even heard Equiano's name. This remarkable account should be better known.
A fascinating story Aug 5, 2004
Many people -- including myself -- read science fiction and fantasy novels to see new vistas of the imagination, alien cultures and circumstances in which we could never imagine ourselves. Sometimes we look to distant futures or galaxies without remembering just how alien the planet we live on can be!
Equiano's account -- generally a clear, crisply written and unsentimental account with detailed descriptions of the places he visits, with the occassional sermon or rare florid description (Dr. Charles Irving's device "renders fresh Neptune's briny element") -- shows a whirlwind series of adventures, from his time as an Igbo village prince, to his enslavement and trek to the African coast under a series of masters, to his horrendous voyage across the middle passage, his amazement at the terrifying new world he was brought into, his conversion to Christianity, his service in the Seven Years War, his attempts to buy his freedom, and his varying adventures as a sailor. The account goes on to include his disastrous expedition to the North Pole and subsequent spiritual crisis upon such a close touch with his mortality, his management as a commissar for an attempt to settle freed blacks in Sierra Leonne, and, finally, his marraige (something touched on very cursorily, perhaps because he didn't wish to add too much to new editions of the book, which was initially completed before his marraige, or possibly because he was very busy raising his daughters, lecturing, and testifying for the abolitionist cause).
Some parts of the account seem, perhaps, slightly too convenient. One might be tempted to wonder if Equiano's memories, as a ten year old, of the customs of his people are shaped by his desire to retrospectively turn them into Jews, or if his account of, upon hearing that a book contain words, holding it to his ear is borrowed from countless other accounts of the "primitive" who misunderstands the nature of the written word, or if his account of himself as a determined fighter for the integrity of the Sierra Leone colonization project, undermined by the other corrupt managers of the project, who stole from the Exchequer and undersupplied the intended black colonists isn't a biased portrayal in his favor. Overall, though, the records that have been recovered by historians have been favorable to Equiano's story, and inaccuracies are remarkably rare for a book so extensive and often written from memories thirty-years old.
Good Book Feb 9, 2002
This book presents an interesting and unique view into the world of slavery. Buy it...now!