Welcome to Week 2 of the Online Book Club discussion of The Good Lord Bird by James McBride.
How did you enjoy the beginning of the book? I really enjoyed the prologue--I thought it was an innovative beginning to a story, and I really wanted to keep reading, but then the first couple of chapters were a little hard for me to read. I think John Brown's dialogue made it hard for me to get into the story. He just talked so much differently than any person I've ever encountered. And, I think it was a little hard to read because Henry is recounting this story when he is an old man, so he's not as clear of a narrator as he might be if he were telling the story as it was happening. I also think it was hard to keep all of the characters straight. After a couple of chapters, I got more into the narrative, but it did take me awhile. When I was struggling with the reading, I watched an interview with author, James McBride, and it helped me understand the writing better--especially Henry's speaking pattern. Check out the interview below if you're curious about how McBride started the writing process for this book.
Onion was a very interesting character in this first section. His whole situation with John Brown was just so insane. First, John Brown rescues Onion, but really, it didn't seem like Onion wanted to be rescued. He certainly didn't want to fight for his freedom. Then, John Brown assumes that Onion is a girl and won't listen to any hints to the contrary. Finally, John Brown gives Onion his nickname--a nickname that I'm not sure Onion even cares about. It appeared that John Brown had the very best intentions towards Onion, but he wasn't willing to listen to the help that Onion actually needed. I think there's a good lesson in that about making sure the help you're offering to people is the help they actually want and need, not just the help that you think they need. I just felt frustrated on Onion's behalf throughout.
In the video above, James McBride describes this book as a comedic book. Did you feel like this section was very funny? I didn't find it especially funny. John Brown was kind of a comedic character just because he was so over the top, but other than that, I didn't see much humor in this first section. There was a lot of violence and gore, though. That part where Brown and his men kill that man and his sons by chopping off their heads was especially gruesome. I understood that, from John Brown's perspective, the violence was necessary. To him, slavery wouldn't end without bloodshed. But, his tactics appeared, at least in this first section, to be very chaotic and unorganized. It didn't seem like he had an clear plan of attack, but that could be just because we're only hearing his plans from Onion's perspective, and Onion probably wouldn't have understood all of the tactical plans.
Throughout this section, there are mentions of the Good Lord Bird. Were you curious what a Good Lord Bird looked like? Check out this site to read more about the ivory-billed woodpecker, and then check out this site to see a picture of two preserved birds.
This section ends somberly with Fred dying and John Brown leaving Onion, apparently for two years. I'm interested to see if Onion is going to continue to live as a girl throughout the next section, and I wonder how that will play out. And, I'm curious to see what John Brown is up to during their absence. Hopefully, he is a little more organized in his attacks in the next section.
I hope you enjoyed this first section! Please let me know what parts stood out to you, and let me know if you enjoyed something that I didn't mention! Make sure to read Part II before joining us next week! I can't wait to hear from you in the comments section.