The Lost German Slave Girl
John Bailey (Biography)
How could Sally Miller possibly imagine how much her life and future would change on a chance encounter in the spring of 1843. That is what happened when Madame Carl Rouff left her home in Lafayette on that bright morning and travelled across New Orleans to visit her friend in Fauborg Marigny. On her way, she noticed a woman—a slave—who bore a striking resemblance to her beloved friend, Dorothea Müller. But no, it couldn’t be for her friend died on board a ship heading to America. No, it wasn’t Dorothea, but perhaps her lost daughter, Salomé? Could it really be her after twenty-five years without a trace? Was Salomé Müller, the lost daughter of Daniel and Dorothea, finally found? And how could a woman of pure German ancestry be a slave? One chance meeting was about to set off a series of events that would eventually lead Sally Miller all the way to the Supreme Court of Louisiana in one woman’s historic fight for freedom.
In his Author’s Note, John Bailey said that he stumbled upon Sally Miller’s remarkable story while doing research on the laws of American slavery. The breadth of his research is thorough and extensive and he seems to have included everything he gleaned—the rights of slaves and their descendants, the founding of New Orleans, the plight of redemptioners—in his biography of Sally Miller (waste not, want not). On the cover of The Lost German Slave Girl is a quote from The Washington Post declaring, “Reads like a legal thriller.” Not quite. I would say this book comes closer to an immersive (and at times exhaustive) history of slavery in Old New Orleans in the early 19th century. The story does pick up at about 100 pages in (the book is 257 pages not counting the Endnotes) and has enough twists and turns to keep the reader’s attention; however, to get to this point in the story requires a healthy amount of tenacity and grit. Lovers of history and the law will find the abundance of information interesting, but unless you are deeply passionate about either topic, you’ll find the sheer amount of facts and details presented to be a bit to slog through.
Bailey does give readers plenty to think when sharing Sally’s story of freedom, perseverance, and faith. At this biography’s heart is a seemingly simple question: “What is it that binds one person to another?” Love? The law? A sense of duty? For Sally Miller, it was perhaps a little of each depending on her current stage of life. Her story is remarkable, extraordinary, and indeed deserves to be shared if for no other reason than to remind us to never stop fighting for what your heart desires most.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Ishmael Beah (Adult Biography)
Ishmael Beah is a typical 12-year old boy. He enjoys rap music, practicing his dance moves, and playing soccer with his friends. But on one January day in 1993, what he and his brother and friends don’t realize as they head to Mattru Jong for a talent show, as that they will never be returning to their village of Mogbwemo again.
War has come to Sierra Leone. The adults call it a revolutionary war—a liberation of the people from a corrupt government. But why do the liberators kill innocent people? Why do they pillage and burn down the villages? Ishmael and his friends soon find themselves wandering from village to village searching for food, struggling for survival, and keeping one step ahead of the rebels. When they are captured by the government army, they are given a choice: join and fight or die.
Beah’s personal account of his years as a child soldier is horrifying and unimaginable. In his book, he says that it was his father’s words that kept him moving despite his weariness: “If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die.”
It was hard reading Beah’s story and learning about his vile actions during war, his terrifying nightmares that made him fear sleep, and his addiction to marijuana and cocaine. Perhaps what is harder still is knowing that the practice of using children as soldiers in war still exists and remains rampant. But Beah gives us a story not just of tragedy, but of redemption and hope. When he is rescued by UNICEF and taken to a rehabilitation center, every day counselors and medical staff would say to him, “It’s not your fault.” After many months, the day finally came when he began to believe it. By forgiving himself, Ishmael Beah started to forge a new beginning for himself and began to share his incredible story with the world—a story that will hopefully bring awareness and change for the thousands of children still fighting in wars throughout the world.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
The Invisible Wall
Harry Bernstein (Adult Biography)
“It was a quiet, little street, hardly noticeable among all the other larger streets, but what distinguished it from all others was the fact that we lived on one side, and they on the other. We were the Jews and they were the Christians.”
Harry Bernstein describes growing up on a street in the English mill town of Lancashire—one of two sides of the same street separated by an invisible wall, but bonded by poverty. He writes with fearlessness and bittersweet honesty about his selfless and strong mother who tries to make ends meet with the money left over from his father’s constant gambling and drinking. The reader is taken on an emotional rollercoaster that goes from tragedy and despair to triumph and delight. We cringe at his father’s heartlessness and disinterest in his own family, while we hold out hope for his mother who continues to wait for that elusive steamship ticket to America.
At times, Bernstein’s story is painful to read as dream after dream and opportunity after opportunity are unmercifully shattered. If this was a work of fiction, one could justifiably harbor resentment toward the author for his unusually cruel treatment of his characters. Knowing that this story is true makes it all the more unforgettable. This book truly took my breath away and kept me engaged from the very first page to the last.
The Invisible Wall made Harry Bernstein a first-time author at the tender age of 96. After reading his incredible and compelling story, all I have to say is, “Better late than never, Harry.”