I’m hesitant to say anything about I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé because I just don’t think I have anything interesting to say about it. It’s a wonderful book with a strong narrator.
Here’s the Goodreads plot summary:
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. As history and fantasy merge, Maryse Conde, acclaimed author of TREE OF LIFE and SEGU, creates the richly imagined life of a fascinating woman.
And my (somewhat disjointed) thoughts:
The book asks several important questions, which had me ruminating as I read, including, what does it mean to be a witch? Is being a witch necessarily bad?
In this story, Tituba is a witch in the sense that she practices healing rituals and talks to the dead. But she maintains the validity of these time-honored traditions and feels they aren’t harmful, though she’s constantly challenged by white men and their fear of them (and her).
I love that she talks to her dead mother and grandmother, drawing strength and seeking advice from them. There’s a certain comfort to knowing your loved ones are just beyond the veil, watching and supporting you.
I also liked Tituba’s take on sex. At one point she says to her Massachusetts owner’s wife, who asks her not to speak of sex, does it not bring forth new life? (I’m paraphrasing.) And throughout the book, she connects with the men in her life through her body, and seems to need them physically as much as she craves their love.
At the same time, Tituba sees that men and women face different consequences for their carnal attachments, especially when she meets adulterer Hester in prison. Hester’s lover is walking around free while Hester is imprisoned and pregnant with his child, proving Tituba’s point that “Life is too kind to men, whatever their color.”
So there are some feminist issues taken head-on throughout book. And Condé’s prose is dense with meaning, though totally readable—it pushed me along through the story quite quickly.
This book just has so much to dig into, I don’t feel I can write a blog post that does it justice. But I do strongly recommend it. I’m still thinking about it days later and I’m sure I’ll read it again at some point. I liked it that much.