One of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in 2017 is Ishmael Reed’s Flight to Canada. It’s strange and difficult to describe – an unstuck in time postmodern parody of fugitive slave narratives, set partly in the 1860s and partly in the 1970s – and frankly, something I probably never would have picked up on my own.
Photo by Andrew Spencer, courtesy of Unsplash.
I read Flight to Slavery because of a reading challenge from my dad that’s been going on since I was in high school. (To put it in perspective, my ten-year reunion’s occurring later this year.) My dad has been recommending books that he thinks I should read – one author at a time, alphabetically by last name. The first was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; it was followed by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, et cetera, with the latest being Ishmael Reed.
Yes, it’s taken a long time and I’m not even that close to finishing yet. Years have gone by (especially in college) without crossing a book off the list. But every book I’ve read has been valuable. I’ve read some of my dad’s favorite books, words that have changed my worldview, and stories of America that resonate with my own family’s history.
Flight to Canada changed my worldview. One of the threads running through the story is how white authors and artists co-opt the stories of black people and other minorities for white audiences – a message relevant in the 19th century when the fugitive slave narrative took off, the 20th century when the book was written, and the 21st century when I read it.
People today are still told that they don’t possess the knowledge or perspective to truly understand their own experiences. So I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Flight to Canada: “She said that slavery was a state of mind, metaphysical. He told her to shut the fuck up.”