Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue Review

day_of_tearsDay of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue by Julius Lester

Hyperion Book CH, 2007. 978-1423104094

Winner of the 2006 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: On March 2 and 3, 1859, the largest auction of slaves in American history took place in Savannah, Georgia. More than 400 slaves were sold. On the first day of the auction, the skies darkened and torrential rain began falling. The rain continued throughout the two days, stopping only when the auction had ended. The simultaneity of the rain storm with the auction led to these two days being called “the weeping time.” – from

Why I picked it up: I had never heard of “the weeping time” and was curious about a fictional accounting of the events.

Why I finished it: I feel like I’ve been saying this about quite a few of the books I have read so far this month, but this is really a powerful book. Though many of the characters are fictional, the small handful (Pierce Butler and his daughters, Sarah and Frances, Fanny Kemble, and the auctioneer) are real, as are the circumstances described in the book. It’s appalling to me that there was a time in our history where is was permissible to own people as though they were property, that they could be sold from person to person and moved from place to place as though they were nothing more than animals. While Lester only briefly touches on this notion, there is also some insight by the white slave owners about slavery and their views about how slaves should be treated. Some of these views are shared by the slaves (Solomon [an old slave at a plantation in Kentucky] believes that slavery is a good thing for him), others believe that freedom is the better option, even if they have to worry about things like putting a roof over their heads and where to get a job. I love that this novel is written in a dialogue. It reads more like a play with some insightful asides than a novel, offering the reader a glimpse of both the horror and hope experienced by African Americans in the years leading up to and during the Civil War. It speaks about the psychological effects the auction has on both Butler as the former owner, those slaves not sold in the auction, and those slaves that were sold. Day of Tears is a profound retelling of a little known historical event that will have a lasting impact on the reader even after they close the book.

Other related materials: To Be a Slave by Julius Lester; From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester, illustrated by Rod Brown; A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror by Howard Zinn; Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon; A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl by Patricia C. KcKissack; The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; Freedom Crossing by Margaret Goff Clark; Stealing Freedom by Elisa Carbone; Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson


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