Retro Reads

Retro Reads Thursday: The Slave Dancer

There comes a time in every reading loving child’s life when they pick up a book that completely opens their eyes and shocks them to their very core. The subject matter isn’t really important – different subjects affect different people in very different ways. Maybe that shocking subject is divorce, or death of a loved one, or a war that destroys a home. For me, the subject was slave trading.

Growing up the way I did, it was just understood that yes, slavery was a big part of the past. It existed, it happened, it was. I didn’t have a strong opinion of it nor did I even give much thought about what slavery actually was. I knew the logistics of how it came to be: settlers went to Africa, captured the people who lived there, transported them back to America, and then sold them to the highest bidder. I knew it was wrong. I just didn’t understand HOW wrong.

And then I read The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox.

The Slave Dancer is the story of a boy, Jessie, who is kidnapped because he can play the fife and is dumped upon a slave trading ship. His job is to play music for the captured slaves to make them dance, thereby keeping their muscles strong. Jessie is disgusted by this and the whole slave trading business, but the men on the ship see it as their livelihood, a business, nothing more.

I can’t remember why I read this book. I don’t remember if I had to read it or if I picked it up just because. Either way, I remember it really affecting me.

I don’t really want to get into a huge discussion about WHY it affected me, mainly because the book deals with such a sensitive topic and exploring it isn’t really the point of Retro Reads – but I will say that after reading this, I never looked at slavery and slave trading the same way again. It incited sympathy, a new understanding of exactly what it was because this book was dark, honest, gritty. It helped to humanize the facts that I already knew. Any book that can do that definitely sticks with me a long, long time.

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2 thoughts on “Retro Reads Thursday: The Slave Dancer”

  1. This books sounds vaguely familiar… but the fact I don’t really know if I read it makes me think it didn’t leave a very big impact on me. Which sucks, because just reading that description I am struck by how degrading the idea of slave dancing is. (although, I recall reading about how music/dance were means of resistance and ways of maintaining or creating a cultural identity for slaves… so maybe there is more to this story than I remember from reading the description).


  2. I love that you’re able to talk about this book that affected you so deeply that you can still remember the feelings years later. This one is actually on my list of audioboks from the library that I might want to check out at some point. I didn’t read it, or even hear of it that I can remember as a kid. I’m very glad that you featured it since I didn’t really know all that much about it, other than the blurb and the award plastered on the front!


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