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January's Book
Modern Medea
by Steven Weisenburger

From the 1999 paperback edition (Hill and Wang):

“A fascinating account of the institution of slavery and one slave’s dramatic rebellion against it.”
—Sharon Shahid, USA Today


On a frigid Sunday night in January 1856, a twenty-two-year-old Kentucky slave named Margaret Garner gathered up her family and raced north, toward freedom. When capture was at hand, Margaret turned on her children with a knife rather than see them returned to a life of slavery. Her child-murder electrified American society, and it led to the country’s longest, most spectacular fugitive-slave trial. Garner’s story inspired numerous fictional treatments (including Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved), but Steven Weisenburger is the first nonfiction writer to tackle this astonishing story. His dramatic tale also provides a nuanced portrait of the not-so-genteel Southern culture of slavery and its destructive effect on all who lived with it and in it.

Modern Medea is full of stirring details ... Weisenburger’s narrative is always compelling.”
—Susie Linfield, Los Angeles Times

“The definitive historical account of the Margaret Garner episode.”
—Art Jester, Lexington Herald-Leader

“One cannot but realize, after reading Modern Medea, that the case of Margaret Garner forced Americans in the North and the South to recognize slavery as an institution that would drive the nation to war. [Weisenburger] brilliantly unfolds the ways in which Margaret Garner’s act ... transformed her life story into a legend ... engaging.”
—Marilyn Mobley McKenzie, The Women’s Review of Books


Steven Weisenburger, professor of English and co-director of the Program in American Culture at the University of Kentucky, is the author of Fables of Subversion: Satire and the American Novel and A ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ Companion.



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