Several years ago, I read an article about Alabama author Margaret Walker, whose most famous novel “Jubilee” includes portions that are set during Civil War times in Butler, Crenshaw and Pike counties in Alabama, not far from where I live. I added “Jubilee” to my “bucket list” a couple of years ago and finally got around to reading it earlier this month. I finally finished reading it over the weekend, and I thought it was great.
Walker was born in Birmingham in 1915 and published “Jubilee,” her second book in 1966. For those of you unfamiliar with the novel, it’s mostly about Vyry Brown, the mixed-race slave daughter of a plantation owner in Georgia. The novel follows Vyry as she grows up in slavery, lives through the Civil War and adjusts to her freedom after the war.
I thought this novel did an outstanding job of showing slavery, the Civil War and the post-war years from multiple perspectives, and I feel that I learned a lot from having read the novel, which was apparently well-researched. Much of the book is about people’s attitudes towards one another and how their legal status as free or slave, regardless of race, dictated their behaviors and the courses of their lives. The fact that the story is loosely based on the life of Walker’s grandmother, Margaret Duggans Ware Brown, made the story even more interesting.
After the end of the Civil War, Vyry moves with her husband and two small children from Georgia into Alabama, and I was especially interested to read the descriptions of life in Alabama locations that I’m familiar with. Real-life Alabama locations prominently mentioned in the book include Troy in Pike County, Luverne and Brantley in Crenshaw County, Georgiana and Greenville in Butler County, Selma in Dallas County and the capital city of Montgomery. The novel ends with Vyry’s family living in relatively good conditions in Butler County during Reconstruction years.
The edition of the novel that I read was the 1972 Bantam paperback edition of the book, which was 416 pages long. I think I paid a quarter for it at the used book room at the Monroe County Library in Monroeville, Ala. In all, it took me about two weeks to read this novel, and, at times, it was very hard to put down.
Of course, now that I’ve read “Jubilee,” I’m left wanting to read some of Walker’s other books because if they’re as good as “Jubilee,” I’ve got a lot to look forward to. Also, I’m trying to track down the location of Margaret Duggans Ware Brown’s grave, but I have not had any luck so far. If anyone out there knows where the “real-life Vyry” is buried, please let me know.
In the end, how many of you have read “Jubilee” by Margaret Walker? What did you think about it? Which of Walker’s other books would you recommend? What other Civil War books would you recommend reading? Let us know in the comments section below.