So today is a book I found fascinating because it’s based on incredibly well researched history, and a history I don’t really know that much about. I love learning from my reading!
What kind of a girl steals the clothes from a dead man’s back and runs off to join the army?
A desperate one, that’s who.
World been turned on its head by that big old war, and the army seemed like the safest place to be, until we was sent off to fight them Indians. And then? Heck! When Death’s so close you can smell his breath, ain’t nothing makes you feel more alive.
Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman is all the more heartbreaking because you know it’s based in truth. Charley herself may not have existed, but there were others like her, and the strength of character she has to have just to survive the things life throws at her is astounding. A former slave, freed at the end of the American Civil War, she finds herself with no choice but to pretend to be a man and join the army after her friends and de facto parents are killed by disgruntled white men. Slavery may have been ended, but racism runs deep, and Charley soon discovers that she’s swapped one kind of slavery for another.
Buffalo Soldier is a brilliant exploration of what freedom actually means, as well as an education in what life was like for former slaves once they were ‘freed’. It had never occurred to me that they would have just been abandoned and left homeless and starving. Even when Charley joins the army, the white soldiers treat her and her fellow Buffalo Soldiers (all-Black regiments formed to fight the Native Americans) despicably. Landman writes in the first person, from Charley’s point of view, so we feel everything as she does, and my goodness, it is painful. Brilliant, but painful. I don’t think I would have been able to survive the way Charley does, and I have so much admiration for her being able to keep going after so much pain.
This book won last year’s Carnegie Medal, and it was a very much deserved win. I picked it up on the strength of that, and I’m so glad I did. Some books just HAVE to be read, and this is one of them.