Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Song Yet Sung

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Song Yet Sung

by James McBride

Song Yet Sung by James McBride
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2008, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2009, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

The Underground Railway Secret Code

Quilts hung out in a rainstorm, barrels stacked in careful sequence, boats tied to the dock with five knots facing one direction, songs of freedom and warning, a blacksmith's hammer ringing out in an undetectable sequence; all are evidence of the secret codes of the Underground Railroad: cryptic communications used to facilitate the safe passage of escaped slaves. The Code is central to Song Yet Sung, it's the mysterious, rhythmic backbone of the story, as much a mystery to the main character as it is to the reader. Much of the Code consisted of seemingly innocuous words or phrases that held greater meaning, e.g.: "The wind blows from the south today" warned that slave hunters were nearby. As with many oral histories, legend has mixed with fact, and details about the Code are disputed among historians.

Particularly controversial is the hypothesis that quilts were used to send coded messages, especially since none of the quilts have survived. Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, which served as the basis for McBride's research about the code, recounts the oral history of Ozella McDaniel's family passed down through the generations. According to Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard, authors of Hidden in Plain View, a seamstress would sew a sampler with various patterns which slaves would memorize. Later, in planning escapes, quilts bearing individual patterns were hung outside to give directions or warning - a secret system in plain view. The first quilt might have displayed a pattern representing a wrench, indicating that it was time to pack up tools and prepare for escape. A bear's paw quilt is believed to have advised slaves to head north over the Appalachian Mountains. "You were supposed to follow the literal footprints of the bear," Dobard says, "Bears always go to water and berries and other natural food sources."

Interesting Links

Article by Lucia Silva

This article was originally published in February 2008, and has been updated for the January 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Good Me Bad Me
    Good Me Bad Me
    by Ali Land
    Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her ...
  • Book Jacket: Five-Carat Soul
    Five-Carat Soul
    by James McBride
    In the short story "Sonny's Blues," from the 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man, African-...
  • Book Jacket: This Blessed Earth
    This Blessed Earth
    by Ted Genoways
    For the Hammonds, a farming family in Nebraska, the 2014 harvest season started with a perfect storm...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Seven Days of Us
    by Francesca Hornak

    A warm, wry debut novel about a family forced to spend a week together over the holidays.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.