Ode to America by Odetta Fraser is a strange book to pin down. It is written like poetry, yet the narrative voice, plot, and chapters are reminiscent of a novel. The book’s blurb calls Ode to America ‘a song both difficult and sweet’. However one would like to categorise it, Fraser’s creation is definitely relevant: through the eyes of our nameless narrator we follow both past and present USA, and the exploitation of black people throughout the centuries.
Fraser, rightfully, pulls no punches. From the very first chapter she tackles slavery, and handles that topic with great aplomb. She is both sensitive and brutally honest; she is humanistic yet never shies away from the cruel, degrading realities of the slave trade, and the anger it makes her feel. It is an incredibly strong opening, and the book continues in this relentless manner until the end. As mentioned previously, Ode to America is broken up into chapters. Each segment seems to tackle a different problem in America society (though admittedly the rest of the world can still relate) and this structure was great. It feels like snapshots of a country, little snippets that help build a much bigger picture. In some ways, the USA is the main ‘character’ of the book, rather than our narrator, and the layout reflects that.
Fraser’s word choice and imagery are very evocative. Admittedly some comparisons threw me off – there is one between slave traders and penguins for example – but on the whole the language flowed beautifully. This also helped make the reading experience even quicker; you just naturally keep reading the flow of words. And, even despite the grim subject matter, there is still some wryness and wittiness to the text. The title Ode to America is a great example of that. Odes are normally associated with heroes; those deserving having praise heaped upon them. By contrast, Ode to America is somewhat ironic, and plays with the idea of odes themselves.
It is hard to sum up Ode to America accurately. Despite being 83 pages long, it does tackle a lot of weighty subjects and tackles them very well. Fraser’s writing is very impressive too. Not quite novel, not quite poetry collection, it is certainly a unique book and one I enjoyed.
I received a free copy thanks to Booktasters. To learn more about the book click here.