Book Review: The Lost German Slave Girl by John Bailey (Macmillan 2003)
The Berkeley Heights Public Library’s First Friday Book Group will discuss attorney and author John Bailey’s The Lost German Slave Girl, a retelling of a cause celebre in ante-bellum New Orleans. The book describes the legal case of Sally Miller, a slave who claimed to be white and therefore, by law, should be freed from bondage. The author began to write a brief expose of slave law, but when the he came across this celebrated case during his research, he decided to write the story of Salome Muller/Sally Miller, the slave girl who was recognized by fellow German immigrants twenty-five years after they had immigrated to America. By writing about a specific, historic person, Bailey has made reading about slave law appeal to a wider readership than the book he had originally planned. The book is a mixed genre: mystery, legal thriller, historical non-fiction. Scenes, characters’ thoughts, dialogue are imagined or invented in ways that may seem plausible, but not provable.
Publishers Weekly (10/11/2004) writes: “Bailey elucidates the bewildering array of possible identities turned up for Sally by numerous witnesses as well as the complexities of 19th –century Louisiana slave law and the status of black women.”
Sally’s owner, generally know to be a “good” slave owner, changes her name because she already has a slave by that name and finds it too confusing to have two. Slave law enumerates at exactly what age a child may be sold and separated from his mother as Sally’s son was sold at a very young age.
Kirkus Reviews (9/1/2004) writes: “Bailey’s trial narrative is a virtual education on the bizarre legalisms once regularly applied to human chattel; when, for instance, freedom eventually comes to Sally—or whoever she was—it is denied her children.”
For further reading:
Borders Reading Guide
Washington Post Review