Song Yet Sung - a Book for all Marylanders

Song Yet Sung, by James McBride, is the selection for One Maryland One Book for 2009, a program of the Maryland Humanities Council.

According to the MHC website:

"One Maryland One Book is Maryland’s first and only statewide community reading project. It is designed to bring together diverse people in communities across the state through the shared experience of reading the same book and participating in book-centered discussions and other related programs at public libraries, high schools, colleges and universities, museums, bookstores, and other organizations."

As a supporter of reading and literacy, and as a native Marylander, I felt compelled to participate in the One Maryland One Book program. Currently, I have no time for pleasure reading. My full time job with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development has me working extended hours - especially during this economic crisis. But, as part of my job, I spend 12 to 15 hours per week driving up and down the Eastern Shore. So I downloaded the audio version of Song Yet Sung, put the 10 hour, unabridged edition on my ipod, and began listening as I traversed the roads and scenic byways of Dorchester, Talbot, Caroline, Kent, Wicomico and Somerset Counties.

I've never enjoyed an audio book so much.

The way James McBride describes the Eastern Shore of Maryland, naming familiar places like East New Market, Blackwater, Bishop's Head, Cook's Point, the Spocott plantation, the reader would presume he was a native - but he's not. Set in pre-Civil War Dorchester County, (birthplace of Harriet Tubman) the story is rich with suspense and drama bringing legendary characters like Patty Cannon alive. Cannon is not a fictional character. She actually lived in Dorchester County, very near the Caroline and Sussex County lines. She was a legendary slave-catcher and murderer, who committed suicide when she was finally arrested. McBride brings Cannon's character to life in Song Yet Sung.

The tale McBride weaves about the trials of escaped slaves and free Blacks that were captured and "sold down the river" is poignant and riveting. It vividly paints a picture of the Eastern Shore when the Underground Railroad was in operation.

McBride also links the details of this story - set in 1850 - to future America. The main character, a slave named Liz Spocott (aka "the Dreamer") is captured by Patty Cannon. She soon escapes capture and spends the rest of the story as a fugitive being led by other slaves and free blacks to freedom through use of a "code." Liz had a unique clairvoyant gift that allowed her to see into the future, and see her people in the present day, with their present challenges. McBride shows how complex relationships between Blacks and Whites evolved, and became the relationships of today. His juxtaposition of the race relations of then and now shows that there is still much work to be done towards healing.

Phoebe Stein Davis, Maryland Humanities Council Executive Director states, "Song Yet Sung offers Marylanders the opportunity to come together around the state in our communities and talk about this beautiful and important novel and the picture it paints of this chapter in Maryland history. ... This is not simply a story of slavery, but rather a tale of freedom, hope, redemption, and identity, with a generous dose of commentary on modern American society."

The story is a great story for Marylanders but and even better story for all Americans. If you love America, and her heritage, if you love descriptive settings and compelling characters, if you're curious about pre-Civil War race relations in a border state, or if you've ever visited Maryland's Eastern Shore - Song Yet Sung is a MUST read.