Picks and Pans Review: New in Paperback

updated 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT


They're all gone now, the survivors of America's Holocaust. They were the African-Americans who endured the era of slavery and who, in this poignant collection of first-person narratives, reflect on life under one of history's most cruelly racist regimes—the early United States.

Of 4 million men, women and children freed after the Civil War, only a few thousand former slaves remained by the mid-1930s, when Federal Writers' Project interviewers transcribed these stories of people who had lived as property of other human beings. With a haunting voice reminiscent of The Diary of Anne Frank, these witnesses to—and often subjects of—daily brutality and degradation leave you to wonder how any survived at all.

Some remember almost idyllic times, but for every slave who remembered a master with fondness, thousands knew misery. One, Charlie Moses, recalled, "Slavery days was bitter; an' I can't forgit the sufferin'." Such pain doesn't diminish the strength that comes through this book. Said George Cato: "I as does come from dat old stock who had de misfortune to be slaves, but who decided to be men, at one and de same time, and I's right proud of it." We're lucky that more than 50 years ago someone saw what these survivors had to contribute to our collective knowledge and that editor James Mellon had the imagination to publish this book in 1988. This is the real Roots. (Avon, $12.95)

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