Wednesday, October 27, 2010

REVIEW: I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem

From Amazon: "At the age of seven, Tituba watched as her mother was hanged for daring to wound a plantation owner who tried to rape her. She was raised from then on by Mama Yaya, a gifted woman who shared with her the secrets of healing and magic. But it was Tituba's love of the slave John Indian that led her from safety into slavery, and the bitter, vengeful religion practiced by the good citizens of Salem, Massachusetts. Though protected by the spirits, Tituba could not escape the lies and accusations of that hysterical time."

Portrayed in most accounts as "a slave from Barbados who probably practiced hoo-doo" not much has been written on Tituba, the first unfortunate person to be accused of witchcraft in Salem. Here Conde tells her story: her beginnings in Barbados, how she came to America and all that she suffered during and after the trials. The beginning of this book started off well enough. As a young girl, Tituba endures the horror of watching as her mother is hanged for trying to defend herself from being raped. Fortunately Tituba is taken in by Mama Yaya who teaches her the arts of healing and magick. She grows into adulthood and starts noticing men. Although a free woman, Tituba becomes besotted with John Indian, a slave from a local plantation and agrees to enter into slavery in order to marry him. When the mistress of the plantation becomes ill they are sold to the Reverend Samuel Parris who takes them to Boston. So starts her nightmarish journey.

Tituba is likable in the beginning. Even with the fantastical elements of her mother and Mama Yaya visiting her as spirits throughout the book, the story is interesting and Tituba gives a heartbreaking account of what she endured as a result of being accused of witchcraft-betrayal from the Parris girls whom she has loved and cared for and unspeakable abuse at the hands of the Puritan judges. She finally confesses and turns the table on the people who have been so cruel to her by felling them with her accusations against them.

The problem comes in when the author decides to 1) throw Hester Prynne (main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter) into the story and 2) weaken the character by making her incapable of avoiding men who cause all the trouble in her life. If I recall, the Scarlet Letter took place sometime in the mid 17th century while the events of the Salem Witch Trials occurred at the tail end of it so the timing doesn't add up to include Hester in this story. As for the situation with men-Tituba got into this mess because she wanted to be with John Indian. He does not end up sticking by her through her ordeal but does she learn from this and decide to be cautious with men in the future? No! She gets entangled with someone else who caused her much sorrow and suffering. I will not give away the ending to Tituba's tale but it is not a happy one and it is for this reason.

I loved the idea of Tituba's story being told but the historical error and the inability of Conde's Tituba to use her brain instead of her heart was too much for me to overcome as a reader.

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