No, Mama, I wanted to say. The world can live in the palm of my hand. The world is in the burning between the thighs of the coloured women who seek you out for comfort. The world is in the wounds on the heads of the fathers, and in the eyes we treated, burnt by smoke from the fires the white mobs set. I can measure the world. Can you? – Libertie
Up until I had read Libertie, I knew very little about how Black people actually lived during slavery. The book introduces us to Libertie, a Black girl who is born free and whose skin is darker than that of most Black people around her. As a result, she cannot ‘get by’ like her mother, Dr. Sampson, who is light enough to be afforded privileges that darker-skinned people are not. Libertie grows up watching her mother heal people and help them gain freedom through very dangerous means. Eventually, however, she grows up to have a different perception of their world and ventures to find her own path in life. This strains their relationship, and leads her mother sending her away to further her studies in medicine. Libertie is given, on a silver platter, what other Black people at the time would have done anything for, but she decides that it is not the right path for her and seeks to find herself elsewhere.
One of the most relatable moments in this book was when Libertie decided to give up on her mother’s dreams for her life and to take a more independent route to the fulfilment of her own dreams and desires. All too often, parents dream their children’s dreams for them, or pressure them into doing what they themselves couldn’t do, which can then lead to psychological issues on the part of the children. So Libertie’s decision to take her life into her own hands felt at once rebellious and deeply liberating. On the flip side, however, while I definitely felt empathetic towards Libertie and her desire to be truly free, one could say that the protagonist felt a bit self-centred and oblivious to the sacrifices her mother had had to make to get the point where Libertie even had the option of a choice.
My rage at the world returned whenever I sat in that library. I knew what a stronger girl would do—sip her wrath like corn liquor, have it drench her ambition, sweat the rage out her pores as she worked harder and better, be smarter. But instead I suckled my anger like Lenore did the abandoned offspring of the barn cats, and it was about as effective as one of those little animals, doing nothing but mewling and flipping over in distress. – Libertie
The book is written in the first person narrative form, with a variety of themes that are likely to sound familiar to many readers. Libertie touches on issues of colourism, greed, corruption, the meaning of freedom, mental illnesses, sexuality and, of course, white supremacy. It explores the paradoxes of Libertie feeling out of place in her study programme, which is filled with Black students, but only one female student – herself.
I think I speak for other readers when I say that it would have been wonderful to know how the story ends, rather than be left with so many burning, unanswered questions. In spite of this, however, I loved how Kaitlyn Greenidge developed her characters with the stories each one of them had to tell and how the book gave some amazing insights into how Black people survived, lived, and died during the period of enslavement, albeit through a fictional lens.
*Thank you to Serpent’s Tail for the free e-copy of this book.