Book Review: Sapphire’s Grave
by Hilda Gurley Highgate
Publication Date: Dec 24, 2002
List Price: $23.95
Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
Read a Description of Sapphire’s Grave
Book Reviewed by Thumper
While many of us have long since grown tired of the slave narratives, slave
stories, or stories that are rooted in our past, my fascination with these
stories have yet to diminish. I heard of Hilda Gurley-Highgate’s debut novel,
Sapphire’s Grave, months before it made its first appearance on any bookstore
shelf. I promised myself that I would read it as soon as I got my hands on it.
I’m glad I keep the promises I make to myself. Sapphire’s Grave is magnificent!
A painful, beautifully written novel that follows the female descendents of a
captured Sierra Leone woman from 1749 to today, Sapphire’s Grave is a remarkable
testament of courage, strength and the tenacity to fight for all aspects of
In 1749, a proud, spirited blue-black woman is chained in the stagnant belly of ship taken from her home, Sierra Leone, West Africa, and the life she knew. She is made a slave in America where she gives birth to her daughter. The slave master names the new baby Sapphire. Mother and daughter are eventually separated but her mother leaves Sapphire the gifts of self-pride, inner beauty, and the sheer willpower to fight. As generations are born, Sapphire’s story is handed down from one daughter to the next. As time passes, each female descendant will come to rely on the power that radiates from Sapphire’s blood flowing through her veins.
Sapphire’s Grave is an extraordinary story. I didn’t come across this assessment easily. It took a little time for me to get used to Gurley-Highgate’s particular style. I had to listen in order to find her groove and move with it. I can appreciate a challenge. I like it better when I’m able to adapt, flow with, and hopefully, love the author’s rhythm. When I did find Gurley-Highgate’s groove, I held on for dear life.
The novel has texture, dimensions and depth. The characters are complex, the language is exquisite and the narrative style is challenging. The third person narrative is densely poetic, highbrow and lyrical. Her narrative is a consummate storyteller, creating remarkable settings and painting pictures of the characters. Gurley-Highgate had a marvelous sense of timing in knowing when to switch from the highly educated third person voice, to that of the grammatically incorrect, yet accurate representation of the characters’ speaking voices. I loved it. If Gurley-Highgate had written the slaves’ or newly freed blacks’ dialogue in the same voice as the narrator’s the novel wouldn’t have been as effective.
Gurley-Highgate incorporation of history, mysticism, and philosophy successfully captured the essence of her characters, specifically, the blue-black Sierra Leone foremother. I was particularly fascinated with the Sierra Leone woman’s God as compared to my idea of God. Each chapter is prefaced with a scripture. In the beginning I erroneously thought the novel was another "How-I-found-Jesus" book, but Gurley-Highgate my idea of God with that of the Sierra Leone woman’s sense of God.
In the afterglow of the novel, I was contemplating the center of the story. The thought that the book was about freedom entered my head and refused to leave. No matter the outcome, whether it is social ostracism, physical violence, or even death, each of Sapphire’s female descendants dances to the beat of her own heart. Sapphire’s Grave is an exceptional book.