This is really an odd, but creative, little story. I would be lying if I said I understood all of it. This is the story of Henry Shackleford and how he came to be acquainted with John Brown, the abolitionist. It is narrated by Henry, who spent several years dressed as a female, with a different identity (Little Onion, AKA Henrietta, AKA Henry), in order to survive after his father died. Not quite a teenager, he saw him killed, in his own shop, before his very eyes. John Brown, present at the scene of the crime (portrayed as a bit addle-brained), thought he heard Henry’s father call him Henrietta before he died. He decided to rescue the “young miss”, convinced that he was liberating “her”, rather than kidnapping “her”; so he set off with “Henrietta” in tow. Henry willingly played the part of a girl in order to be cared for, since he was now an orphan. When Henry accidentally ate Brown’s good luck onion, by mistake, he christened him Little Onion, and the name stuck. Henry was now the good luck charm along with a bird feather (from a woodpecker, the good lord bird) and other assorted oddities.
I felt as if the story went on and on, repeating the same kinds of events in different places, even over using some phrases. They recurred, exactly, in different parts of the narrative. It was only the undercurrent of humor that kept me reading because it was just too long.
John Brown was dedicated to freeing the Negro, even against his will. He did it awkwardly and unsuccessfully, with many a hare-brained scheme, eventually bringing a great deal of death and destruction upon his friends and family. I wondered, was he mad? Did he hear voices? He thought he was the messenger of G-d, and therefore, was invincible.
Even as he was fighting slavery, his army, which was little more than an unprepared group of supporters, ill-trained and uneducated, was mocked by the author.
Famous names were tossed about like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas. The most amusing name of a character was Judge Fuggit. That name, surely a pun, had to be a difficult one to carry. The group of “merry men” was very small and ineffective on their own. They needed the support of the black community, but it was not forthcoming. He was trying hard to free them but they were trying hard to remain safe! He was fighting the war on his own, by and large. Brown’s ragtag army and his slapdash plans were doomed to failure and, indeed, they failed monumentally at Harper’s Ferry.
Brown often quoted random bible phrases. He forgave Onion and others, for whatever they did, interpreting everything as a sign for something else that would bring good-fortune, defying the reality all around him. To call him Pollyanna might be an understatement!
Although the book made John Brown out to be somewhat of a fool, who believed in violence, who had no real plan but flew by the seat of his pants, the fact that he was an abolitionist should have afforded him some honor. He had the right idea, but the wrong approach. Too many of the characters seemed like cartoon drawings of real people, with exaggerated faults, lending to my feeling that this was simply a parody of historic events. The audio book was read well. The speech patterns and accents of the individual characters seemed authentic and aroused the appropriate emotions.