In his long introduction Professor Gates explains how he found this manuscript, allegedly the first novel written by an African-American woman, in an auction catalog, had it authenticated and then proceeded to carefully edit the book for publication. What emerges is a masterful novel relating the life of a remarkable woman.

Written in the style of many 19th-century narratives, Hannah's tale revolves around a young self-educated slave who manages to "pass" and make her way to freedom. Her reflections on life and the institution of slavery and her insight into the era are reminiscent of Charles Dickens.

As a house slave and lady's maid, Hannah has more opportunity than most to learn to read. She uses the master's library and becomes an avid and quick learner. Her relationship with her mistress gives her strength and her ruthless master's behavior gives her the courage to strike out for freedom.

This highly engaging novel—whether you believe Prof. Gates's claim to its origins or not—allows you to become acquainted with a truly remarkable heroine who will inspire you, as well as presenting a first hand portrait of the horrific emotional and physical conditions of bondage. This is a unique and wonderful reading experience. (Now available, 338 pp., $24.95)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin