Last week’s book was Gloryland by Shelton Johnson. It is the story of Elijah Yancy who is born on Emancipation Day in 1863. He is the son of sharecroppers who live in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Unfortunately they quickly learn that in the South emancipation did not mean equality.
Elijah’s background is interesting in that he is both black and of Indian descent. As a teenager he witnesses a lynching and soon after he must leave the South in order to be spared his own life. He walks until he reaches Nebraska where he ends up joining the U.S. Army as part of the Calvary.
Elijah struggles with being a part of an army that requires him to subdue Native Americans in the West and then sends him to the Philippines to help quell a rebellion. In both cases he realizes he is helping to take away land and freedoms from strangers – freedoms he has never experienced himself.
At the end of the story Elijah is sent to Yosemite to help patrol the newly created National Park. It is the first time he feels at home and that he has found a source of personal freedom. Along the way he realizes that he has lived most of his life being angry and he is looking for a way to leave that anger behind him.
This was a very good book though some components of it were fairly graphic – I had a particularly hard time reading the description of the lynching.
Excerpts from the book:
…He once told me that if you have to ask for something that was already yours, then you’d given it up. Up to that day Daddy believed as if he had rights, but he died outside that courthouse trying to claim what nobody should have to ask for.When you’re afraid, everything is clear, too clear, and the fear seems like something living, the shadow of everything you’re seeing and feeling… I was afraid of everything and nothing, especially the nothing that’s a hole living inside when you got no one near who cares if you live or die.Seems like to get something in this world, you gotta take it from someone else.If Anger is a place to live in, then I think 1898 is the year I moved all the way there. but when you’re a good citizen of Anger, you’re living alone and there ain’t no church, no God to hear you raging, and no family near enough to get singed by your heat…No one wants to die. No one wants to be forgotten, and to be forgotten is to die. maybe that’s why I pray so much, so God can learn to pick my voice out of the noise he’s got to listen to, so he can remember my voice.I lived in Anger so long I forgot that there were other places you could live. I didn’t notice that I had no neighbors and no friends. I didn’t notice that being alone was a place I’d built with my own hands. When you’re a good citizen of Anger, you’re stuck inside you, feeling sorry for yourself cause there ain’t nobody around to take up the slack.