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!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...
  • Book Jacket: All Our Wrong Todays
    All Our Wrong Todays
    by Elan Mastai
    You need a great deal of time to read All Our Wrong Todays, but don't let that put you off. ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

To make a library it takes two volumes and a fire. Two volumes and a fire, and interest. The interest alone will do...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

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.

 
Modal popup -