Scottsboro – Ellen Feldman

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  Shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2009
Scottsboro is a novel about the shocking injustice recieved by nine black youths, falsely accused of raping two white girls, on a train in Alabama, in 1931. All the details of the alleged crime, and the trial are included. This book reads like a non-fictional account, but many of the characters are fictional. This meant that the book failed to live in either camp. I’m not a big fan of non-fiction books, as I like to feel the emotion of the characters, but this book can’t really work as a reference aid, as it is unclear exactly which bits are factually accurate, and which are added to improve the flow of the book.

Unfortunately the book is too factual to appeal to fans of historical fiction. We never see beneath the surface of any of the people; events rush along without dwelling on how the characters involved are feeling. I think that this story would work really well on film; the court room drama would work much better on screen than it does on paper.

As an aside, I thought that the cover for this book was terrible. My copy has a picture of a blurred train on the front, and it looks really cheap, and poorly displayed. I would never have picked this up in a bookshop, as it just looks as though no thought has gone into it, therefore implying that the book’s contents are not worth the effort. It needs some embossing, foiling or some other embellishment, and the font on the back is too large and clunky – am I just being a bit fussy?!

I had never heard of this case before, so I am really glad that I now know all the details, but I’d only recommend this book to people who are directly interested in this trial. Everyone else should wait until the film is made and released!





What did you think of this book?
Are you surprised to see it on the Orange shortlist?
Do you think it has a chance of winning?

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  1. Sandy says:

    I think it would bother me a little to not know what is factual and what is not. It’s confusing. I wonder why the author did that? Was there not enough to work with to make it purely non-fiction? I’m also not a fan of courtroom drama generally, even though I have read some that have been phenomenal. Based on everything you have said, I guess I’m surprised it was even shortlisted.

  2. Beth F says:

    Thanks for the review. I like nonfiction, but this one doesn’t sound interesting me.

  3. FleurFisher says:

    That is disappinting.There was potential for a fabulous book with that source material.It sounds as if maybe the author didn’t no which way to go – fiction or non-fiction – and fell down somewhere in the middle.

  4. Jackie says:

    I think that people who approach this book assuming it is non-fiction will enjoy it. I think all the major facts are true, and it is just a few side characters and a bit of dialogue which has been made up.

    I think this would have been much better as a non-fiction book. It wouldn’t have had to lose much, and would have been a more useful resource.

    Jane – I think you’re right – she has fallen into the middle ground, which unfortuantely no-one raves about.

    3.5/5 is a reasonable score from me though. I did enjoy reading it, and am glad I am fully aware of what went on, but I am not going to go around getting everyone to read it.

  5. Nicole says:

    It seems like I would be more interested in reading the facts of this story than a fiction one that doesn’t quite do the job. I’ll probably read it at some point though since I am doing the Orange Challenge. Thanks for your thoughts on the book.


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