I'm a fan of historical fiction, particularly when it's based on true stories. I also have an interest in the struggles against racism, past and present. As a child I was impacted by the book, "Black Like Me," and I love the gritty reality in the poems of Langston Hughes. With this in mind, I picked up "The Disappearing Man," although with some hesitation. Could the author, a man connected to the Veggie-Tales, pull off a credible and gripping full-length novel, one set over 160 years ago and involving no animated characters?
The answer: Absolutely! Doug Peterson takes us into the story of Henry "Box" Brown, a slave in Richmond, Virginia, who makes a daring escape attempt by allowing himself to be shipped north in a wooden box. Henry was an amateur magician, and with the help of a few others, he gave himself a chance to "disappear." This daring feat is mentioned in history books and archived diaries, but few Americans are aware of the tale. Peterson rights that wrong. Alternating chapters between the 1849 escape attempt and the earlier years of Henry Brown's enslavement, the book picks up speed. I got hooked on the storyline in the past--the abuses, the romance, the friendships--only to find myself hooked again on the harrowing portions dealing with Henry's imprisonment in the box. Henry's foes are set on finding him before he reaches freedom, and each successive chapter, like a sprinter's pounding feet, propelled the plot toward its climax.
I read the book in three sittings, and when I was done I went online to check out some of the history of this fascinating man and the somewhat different slave-system in urban Virginia. I also enjoyed the book's inclusion of various Negro-spirituals from that time-period. Overall, it is more than just fast-paced entertainment; it is an eye-opening and educational reminder of the importance of grace, acceptance, and equality. Even as the lives of many slaves blew away like windswept leaves, those leaves spread seeds and life that continue on into today.