Wednesday, September 14, 2011

You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley

by William H. Armstrong
128 pages
ISBN:  0881030481

Sounder is a simple, beautiful tale--a parable even--of an African-American sharecropper, his family, and his hunting dog Sounder in the nineteenth-century South.  Dirt poor, the family lives off of corn mush and whatever possums and coons the father and Sounder can hunt down.  After a long dry spell of nothing but corn mush, the family wakes up to the smell of pork sausage and ham bone.

The next day the sheriff and two deputies come to the cabin and arrest the father for stealing a hog.  In an attempt to defend his master, Sounder is shot and seriously injured.  With the father gone, his eldest son, only a boy, must take over his father's work to help his mother support the family.  The stoic mother for her part holds them all together:  She takes in laundry, shells walnuts, sings or hums hymns, and tells her children Bible stories.  As for Sounder:  He waits for the day he can go hunting again.

The characters, all nameless save Sounder, are heroic Everymen representing the downtrodden everywhere who are oppressed at the hands of their fellowman, yet so richly drawn are the characters that they stand as individuals, too.  Sounder, a Newbery classic, is a transcendent story of loneliness, loss, and suffering, but of hope, love, and loyalty, too.

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