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The Good Lord Bird Paperback – 24 Sep 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Hudson Street Press (an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc); Reprint edition (24 Sep 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594632782
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594632785
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,282,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reminiscent of Mark Twain with the speed of a modern novel interlaced with humour, history and a great story to boot.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was researching the causes of the American Civil War when I came across the story of John Brown. After reading about what he did in those turbulent volatile days leading to the one of the biggest wars in human history I thought it was a great idea for a book or a movie.

Before I called Steve McQueen with this idea I thought I’d check if there was anything going and I came across this gem of a book.

I’m not an aspiring writer who thinks he’s a critic like a lot of people on amazon but I love historical novels and this one was hard to put down. I did find the American Deep South language and slang hard to get used but don’t let that put you off!

This book is narrated by an old southern man looking back at his life disguised as a girl in the company of a bible spouting John Brown whose divine mission is to free slaves. The book is funny, sad and thought invoking as it tackles issues on gender, identity, race and religion.

This has got rave reviews on Amazon’s American site and it has won critical praise and awards from our friends across the pond.

Do not look up John Brown on Wikipedia as there will plot spoilers!

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 451 reviews
125 of 137 people found the following review helpful
By Schuyler T Wallace - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I sometimes have qualms about reading a new book from an author who has really impressed me with an earlier work. So it was with James McBride who wrote one of my all time favorites, SONG YET SUNG, a novel that resonates deep within me to this day. When I saw his new book, THE GOOD LORD BIRD, being offered on Amazon Vine for review, my anxiety returned because I've been disappointed so many times by authors who have failed to live up to their earlier promise.

I'm happy to say that Mr. McBride presents a book that reaffirms his mastery of historical fiction. BIRD is the story of a young black boy, Henry Shackleford, snatched up by abolitionist John Brown and taken away from his family after the youngster's father is killed in a scuffle. Mistaken for a girl by the crusty old man, Henrietta became his name, although Little Onion was Brown's pet name for him. What follows is Onion's account of Brown's rabid attempt to free all the slaves and Onion's adventures disguised as a girl..

John Brown was a fanatical lunatic beset with God's direction. No one could sway him from his mission, control his madness, or change the way he went through life as an unkempt and disagreeable person. Onion was the exception and, although hunger, cold, and violence plagued the boy through most of his time with Brown, he remained loyal and closely bound to the demented old man for years.

McBride has amazing ability to flesh out his characters through dialogue and verbal depictions. This entire book is written in the dialect of the 1850s, using colloquialisms and expressions of the period and place. It's a joy to read because of the endless asides that either amuse or anger the protagonists, depending on their frame of mind. The language flows easily through the book, transporting the reader to a time where intellect flowed from the land and undercurrent of poverty that existed.

Dusty beards, smelly clothes, and threadbare boots were the byproducts of the time. Frigid cabins, miserable conditions, and wet travel through the wilderness were more common than comfortable surroundings. McBride immerses the reader in these environs through impeccable writing, neither belaboring nor offending the reader.

John Brown's mission to free the slaves is the plot. McBride introduces us to historic figures that played important roles in Brown's life. We meet Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman in detailed studies. We experience the slaves' discomfort and uncertainty with their lives and their struggle to gain respectability. We hear the hateful and discordant voices of pro-slavery advocates mixed with the clarion calls for freedom by the abolitionists. We feel the violence of their struggles as they assert their rabid points of view. McBride does that for us with his remarkable insight and skill with words.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. You must read it, as well as McBride's other works.

Schuyler T Wallace
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Definitely a masterpiece 31 May 2013
By Trudie Barreras - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
That McBride was able to keep his characterization and stylistic integrity focused through over four hundred pages of first-person narrative in a linguistic mode authentic for a slave child in pre-Civil War times testifies to this literary masterpiece. Because of that linguistic authenticity, though, some readers might find this story difficult to deal with. I would caution that those who are likely to be distressed by repeated use of terminology that modern usage has come to consider vulgar, crude and racist would need to shelve their squeamishness in order to fully enjoy the extraordinary power and fascination of this narrative.

On the other hand, those who are willing to accept the validity of McBride's setting will find the descriptions of John Brown's character and the "inspired irrationality" of his abolitionist crusade full of nuance and depth. The narrator character, the boy (cast by Brown as a girl) Henry (Henrietta) Shackleford - called Onion - speaks with complete authenticity and amazing insight. The various sons (and one daughter) of John Brown who appear in the story are portrayed with extraordinary intensity given the relatively minor parts they play. The Negro characters, both slave and free, are represented with similarly sharp delineation; in the case of Frederick Douglass, with more than slightly unflattering perspective.

The plot is complex, and at times I felt that the time-line got somewhat confused. For those like me who are not fully conversant with the history of John Brown's exploits, I think at least a brief recap of dates, perhaps at the beginning of each part or at least as a summary at the end, might have lessened that confusion somewhat. However, I did not let this really distract me from my own intense involvement with and enjoyment of the story. Though it was not really "fast moving" in all parts, there was plenty of action and suspense. McBride has definitely produced a masterpiece, I believe.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Extraordinary Historical Fiction ... 3 Aug 2013
By delicateflower152 - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
James McBride is an extremely gifted author who writes unforgettable books. "The Good Lord Bird" now joins "The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother," as one of my favorite books.

"The Good Lord Bird" is a fictional accounting of John Brown's zealotry and abolitionist activities, as seen through the eyes of a diminutive young man whom Brown "abducts" following a brawl. Henry (Henrietta) Shackleford, "Little Onion" or "Onion" has a unique perspective on the people and events of the era. Mistaken for a girl, he has the opportunity to see things and to hear information that others would not reveal to a young man. In several instances, humorous scenes flow directly from the gender-identification error or from the mistake's discovery. Further, his treatment as a girl mirrors the treatment he might have received as a slave - it is as if he was not present when events happen or issues discussed. He is merely a piece of "property" and is there, but not aware. Onion recognizes this as he states "...I'd gotten used to living a lie - being a girl - ... being a Negro's a lie, anyway. Nobody sees the real you. Nobody knows who you are inside ...You are just a Negro to the world ..." However, this gender misidentification also results in Onion being put into some dangerous situations. But, he is a survivor; Onion will do whatever is necessary, including continuing the charade, to avoid bloodshed and to live.

Narrated in the first person, the use of regional vernacular and syntax, as well as grammatical idiosyncrasies adds to the authenticity of "The Good Lord Bird". Characters speak as they might when interacting with others of their social class and level of education. Used as necessary and in the context of story, period vulgarities, racial epithets, and violence only heighten the personal nature of Onion's narrative. Onion's observation of and insight into other characters, their motives, and their true nature is extraordinary.

Throughout "The Good Lord Bird", James McBride maintains the reader's interest and allows the characters to develop realistically. While often irrational and authoritarian, John Brown is, in "The Good Lord Bird", imbued with a humanity he may not deserve. Brown displays a depth of emotion and care for Onion not often accorded him. As a result, Onion maintains a loyalty to Brown through the years. Brown's sons - particularly Frederick -while playing minor roles in this novel, do provide some humorous moments as they interact with Onion.

Set in the years immediately preceding the War Between the States, "The Good Lord Bird" is a fine piece of historical fiction. While my knowledge of that era - its characters and events - does not allow me to judge the historical accuracy of this work, the fact that James McBride makes the story seem real marks it as extraordinary historical fiction.

Readers who enjoy period, personal narratives such "Little Big Man," "One Thousand White Women," and "These Is My Words" will find "The Good Lord Bird" is an excellent choice. After reading "The Good Lord Bird", those who have never explored the other works of James McBride may want to add those books to their reading list. "The Good Lord Bird" is a 5-star book and one that I am pleased to recommend.
42 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Entertaining but LOOOOOOOOONG 17 Sep 2013
By KNreadergirl - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Captivating fictionalized retelling of the famous John Brown raid on Harpers Ferry pre- Civil War told through the eyes of a child. Not your ordinary child. "Little Onion" as she is called is a 12 year old slave that finds herself freed and traveling with Old John Brown and his fellow abolitionists through Kansas after her father is killed in a barber shop shootout. But "she" is really a "he" called Henry, a mistake Old John Brown made early on that never found its way to the truth. This group of odd misfits, led by the Old Man and including many of his own grown sons, are searching for the perfect way to do the Lords work by ending slavery once and for all. Old Man avoids capture, bullets by a fraction of a hair and performs hour long sermons in the middle of the battlefield. The main characters in the novel are funny, smart and shockingly likable. The writing is superb and storyline interesting. But fellow readers, my one and only drawback. It is very very long. I felt like it could have had an incredible impact and been about 100 pages shorter to get the same effect. The Good Lord Bird: A Novel
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Too long, informative but hard to read 23 Mar 2014
By Elana - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was disappointed that this book was so slow to take off. Given the marvelous reviews, I expected to get wrapped up in the story but after 88 pages, I was still having difficulty staying focused. I wanted to like it. I didn't altogether love the main character, Onion, and perhaps that is because she/he was a flawed individual, as most of us are. However, I did manage to finish the story and learn quite a bit about John Brown. Yes, the story was funny at times but overall, it was tough to read. While I acknowledge the clever use of folksy dialogue to illustrate the narrator, Onion, it created a tedious tale. I was a bit surprised at the negative portrayal of Douglass, and wondered why McBride felt the need to go there with such a revered figure in history. I'm glad to have finished the book but can't honestly say that I would recommend it to anyone else.
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