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Sacred Hunger (Sacred Hunger #1)

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  4,978 Ratings  ·  421 Reviews
This is an alternate cover for ISBN 9780140119930

Winner of the 1992 Booker Prize for Fiction.
Sacred Hunger is a stunning and engrossing exploration of power, domination, and greed. Filled with the "sacred hunger" to expand its empire and its profits, England entered full into the slave trade and spread the trade throughout its colonies. In this Booker Prize-winning work, B
Paperback, 630 pages
Published by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1992)
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Mar 15, 2010 ·Karen· rated it it was amazing
Shelves: brits

Historical novels are "a somewhat gimcrack genre not exactly jammed with greatness" according to James Wood in the New Yorker. (Where he is, however, exceeding polite to Ms Mantel.)

I can only imagine that this is one of those rarities whose existence he grudgingly allows. It is magnificent. It was magnificent the first time I read it all those years ago when it shared the Booker prize with The English Patient, and it retains its magnificence now.

A re-read is always a new experience: this time r
Such an unsettling book. One that demanded more from my senses, emotions, thoughts than I ever expected it would. It preoccupied me, it made me feel sick, it taught me, it even entertained me at times, but rarely. It was not that kind of book, not the kind you can read for entertainment or enlightment alone. Rather it is a book that demands, that contorts, that expands and contracts your heart til it cracks. A book where the author demands the reader pay the price of turning the page.

In Ethan C
Paul Bryant
Sep 28, 2007 Paul Bryant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here's another 5 star novel I never reviewed. Barry Unsworth was an English guy, son of a miner (something he has in common with DH Lawrence, and more importantly, with me). He knocked out all kinds of interesting novels and this is a real pearl, all about slavery, so of course it's a historical horror story. In the middle of the story there's a ship that finds itself randomly beached on the coast of pre-Miami Florida and the slaves and sailors then get busy and create for themselves a nearly ut ...more
Sep 06, 2008 Brad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review was written in the late nineties (for my eyes only), and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal in which it was written. I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago (although square brackets may indicate some additional information for the sake of readability or some sort of commentary from now). This is one of my lost reviews.

"...the sky took on a look of readiness for the dark, that depthless clarity which is no colour and the wom
This book is about England and her role in the slave trade. It is also about how men and women thought in the mid-1700s, how they viewed justice and freedom and success, and those of the opposite sex. In its accurate depiction of these times, it is an excellent work of historical fiction.

Here follows a quote from chapter 40, so you can judge how you may react. It is a diary entry written by Paris, the surgeon on the Liverpool Merchant slave ship:
April 26: I continue, in spite of these terrible
I once had a dream where I saw myself in a mirror and looked myself directly in the eyes. It was one of the most disconcerting dreams I've ever had since most of my dreams aren't quite that direct.

Reading this book gave me a similar feeling. Unsworth wrote not just about slaves on a slave ship. He wrote about humans looking me, another human, directly in the eyes. I felt the same thing that I felt in that dream.

And that's amazing.

This book broke my heart.
Jan 18, 2008 Trevor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1992
"Soon after midnight the first of the land breeze began making along the river and Thurso ordered sail to be got up and all to be made ready for purchasing anchor. At two they weighed an got out to sea, the wind by this time giving a good offing. In the ocver of darkness, as quietly as possible, the Liverpool Merchant began to steer a course south-eastward. but when the ship met the deep sea well, the rhythm of her movement changed and the people in the cramped and fetid darkness of the hold, un ...more
Maria Thomarey
Dec 08, 2015 Maria Thomarey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
10/10 . Ένα βιβλίο για τα πάντα : την ελευθερία τη φρέναπατη , το άγνωστο τους άλλους τρόπους διακυβέρνησης τις αντανακλάσεις μας , τη ναυτική ζωή , τη ζωή στην εξοχή , την ενηλικίωση , την εκδίκηση , τα πάθη και τα λάθη .
May 18, 2012 Tony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
SACRED HUNGER. (1992). Barry Unsworth. *****.
This was recommended to me by a friend at the local library. Until then, I hadn’t heard of either the book or the author. On the cover of this American edition, it had a tasteful sticker that said: “Winner of the 1992 Booker Prize for Fiction.” I was even further embaressed. I looked it up, and, sure enough it was a winner, but it shared the prize with “The English Patient.” That book took America by storm, and was followed by an excellent film adapt
Nancy Oakes
(don't worry: no spoilers here)

I would recommend it to anyone, but a) it is a difficult read sometimes, both in terms of subject matter & in terms of readability. A lot of the book has the characters speaking in a "pidgin" English, a necessity (imho) to the story at times. This was slow going but at least for me, didn't detract from the reading experience. I could see where some readers may find it difficult and off-putting; b) it's definitely not what I call a "fast-food" have to
Laura Leaney
Sep 05, 2011 Laura Leaney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautiful book about the contradictory nature of man: his nobility, his violent aggression, his gross appetites, his generosity, his drive for power and dominance, and his humility. All is explored in epic scale through the journey of a slave ship, The Liverpool Merchant, as it makes its befouled way along the trans-Atlantic triangular route mapped by previous “traders.” Sugar, tea, trinkets for human beings. Huge profits on human flesh. History books can give you the facts, but Barry ...more
Sep 14, 2008 Ted rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the best books I have ever read. Beautiful, rich, full of adventure and sadness. Set in the mid 1700's it tracks the final business venture (a slave ship) of a well to do Liverpudlian merchant. The melancholy tone of the book works extremely well with the cruel methodical life aboard a slave ship. This is set against the merchants family back in Liverpool. Although written in third person, Sacred Hunger is told mainly from the viewpoint of the ships surgeon who happens to be the ...more
I'm not sure why I didn't enjoy this more than I did. The writing was uniformly excellent and the story made great insights into human relationships and power.

I think it may have been timing, and it may have just been me. But as much as I could appreciate the quality of the novel I had a hard time getting back to it after putting it down. In fact, I read about 200 pages today in a sprint because I wanted to finish it before I completely lost interest.
Dr. Milmon
Jul 25, 2011 Dr. Milmon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished this book this morning after spending the last week or two completely engrossed in it. I was moved and disturbed on so many levels that I don't think I'm even ready to talk about yet. Maybe I need to let it "marinate" for a few days before I try to write a review. Like so many others I picked this book up after hearing a review of it on NPR. That was two years ago! And it has sat on my bookshelf all this time. I'm a believer that things come into our lives sometimes only when we' ...more
Book Concierge
From the book jacket: A stunning and engrossing exploration of power, domination, and greed. Filled with the “sacred hunger” to expand its empire and its profits, England entered fully into the slave trade and spread the trade throughout its colonies. This book, which won the Man Booker Award in 1992, follows the failing fortunes of William Kemp, a merchant pinning his last chance to a slave ship; his son who needs a fortune because he is in love with an upper-class woman; and his nephew who sai ...more
Dina Goluza
Oct 04, 2016 Dina Goluza rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, booker
Fantastična knjiga. Prikazuje jedno od najružnijih i najtužnijih razdoblja u povijesti čovječanstva a to je trgovina robovima. Sve zbog "svete gladi" za profitom. U ovoj knjizi čovjek nije čovjeku vuk nego puno gore.
This is a very good novel about the slave trade, but what takes it beyond simply a retelling of the brutality of capturing and buying slaves is the on-board rebellion that occurs during the Middle Passage and the makeshift society that the seamen and slaves fashion afterward.
Courtney H.
Mar 14, 2012 Courtney H. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, bookers
Sacred Hunger is an astounding novel. It is the best book I’ve read in a long time; it is also, by far, the most devastating (which is saying something, given some of the Bookers I’ve read recently – Schindler’s Ark and The Bone People coming to mind). I have been reluctant to write this review because I’ve found it difficult to review books that I love, and Sacred Hunger falls into that category. I wasn’t sure that I’d find another Booker that I love quite as much as The Remains of the Day and ...more
Apr 16, 2012 Tuck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
magisterial historical fiction of triangle trade, liverpool with guns, fabric, and beads to gold coast for slaves to jamaica to sell slaves and get sugar, back to liverpool. novel takes place 1750's-1760's. englishmen are firm in their belief that making a profit was not only virtuous, but a sign that god and your govt was smiling on you. if for any reason either one somehow impinged on you making a profit well then they were just wrong wrong wrong (even god i guess) so as in ghosh's novels of t ...more
Jan 23, 2012 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's for books such as this that I love reading. One of the most fully realized re-creations of another time and place I've ever come across, coupled with sharply delineated characters, primary and secondary, I have to say this is among the best books I've ever read. Not only does it deal with thought-provoking matters related to morality, greed, and justice, but it is also highly entertaining. Virtually every page is artfully crafted and a joy to read.

The fact that I came upon it during an unpl
Jan 26, 2017 Stratos rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Σπουδαίο βιβλίο με συναρπαστική πλοκή. Πολύ καλή σκιαγράφηση των χαρακτήρων, ένα βιβλίο που το συστήνω ανεπιφύλακτα.
Jan 09, 2010 Cat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an astonishingly beautiful and moving book. A historical novel about the eighteenth century slave trade, Sacred Hunger connects the Enlightenment desire to subdue the world through reason with the processes of abstraction which allow Europeans to perpetrate the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Africans in the slave trade. It entangles this story of exploitation with the co-evolving stories of class exploitation represented by the impressment of sailors into service on a slave ship, lan ...more
Jun 23, 2009 Bill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Unsworth won the 1992 Booker Man prize for Sacred Hunger. With 630 pages it is a long, good read and is multi-leveled. The plot centers around the Kemps a family in Liverpool in 1752. The family consists of a father, a seemingly wealthy cotton trader; his wife; their son Erasmus, who is about 20; and Paris, Erasmus' cousin who is a doctor.

The adventure begins with the building of the Liverpool Merchant a ship, a slaver, that the elder Kemp believes will make him richer. We follow the ship to Afr
Donna Callea
Jan 10, 2013 Donna Callea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't say that I enjoyed reading this book. But I did find it fascinating, enlightening, wonderfully written and thought provoking. The title refers to the hunger for profit and societal status that is evidently engrained in human beings-- at least some of us, maybe most of us-- and the cost of this hunger to the rest of humanity. Set in the mid-18th century, the two central characters are English cousins. Erasmus Kemp is the son of an ambitious merchant whose hopes for financial redemption li ...more
Will Lock
Jun 30, 2012 Will Lock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth, is a contemporary novel that nevertheless gives you the impression that you are reading a collaboration by Herman Melville and Charles Dickens. The setting is the slave trade, or triangle trade if you want to avoid naming the principal commodity. The omniscient narrator is straight out of the 18th-19th centuries, specifically at a time when it was only beginning to occur to a very few people that there might be something morally wrong with slavery, and the slave ...more
Jan 01, 2010 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
High 5. Worthy winner of the Booker Prize, the novelist has provided a
haunting portrait of man's inhumanity to man to satiate their
appetite for profit - the 'sacred hunger' of the title. The author
provides a memorable 'voice of reason' in the tragic figure of Matthew
Paris, and brings to vivid life the hardships and brualities aboard
an 18th century slaveship. However, the book also portrays the bonds which are inherent in Georgian England, shaping the single-minded
pursuit of worldly station and r
Aug 05, 2015 Emma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
This was a rich and detailed account on life on a slave trader ship. Despite it's length, the pages flowed effortlessly. Some reviewers have said that they found the dialect and pidgin language a hindrance, but I found it added rather than detracted. The sacred hunger is the search to make money at all costs. Slavery was (is) a terrible part of our collective consciousness. The details and description and the contrast to life as an affluent merchant in late eighteenth century Britain are as you ...more
Aug 31, 2009 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this about a week ago and was hoping that a bit of time would help me process the many themes and ideas wrestled to the ground by this epic (a word I do not use lightly) and give full voice to Unsworth's accomplishment. Well. This is a book about SLAVES being ENSLAVED on board SLAVE SHIPS, with sides of SCURVY and MUTINY -- can you tell that slavery is sort of A Big Deal for me, the perpetual bee in my bonnet, my kryptonite, my own personal lidless eye of Sauron -- so, forgive these i ...more
Rosina Lippi
This is one of those historical novels that puts hooks into you. Sometimes you want to put it down because the subject matter can be so painful, but you can't. The story makes demands of the reader, and you follow along.

The story revolves around a slaver called the Liverpool Merchant setting out for Africa and from there to the sugar islands. Mathew Paris, a doctor recently released from prison in Norwich, is (at least for the first part of the novel) the main character. The story throws a great
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Movie version? 1 7 Feb 08, 2015 07:12AM  
Themes 3 23 Mar 15, 2013 04:55PM  
  • Saville
  • Something to Answer For
  • Holiday
  • The Elected Member
  • Rites of Passage (To the Ends of the Earth, #1)
  • G.
  • The Old Devils
  • How Late it Was, How Late
  • Staying On
  • The Conservationist
  • The Siege of Krishnapur
  • Offshore
  • Last Orders
  • Heat and Dust
  • Moon Tiger
  • The Famished Road
  • In a Free State
  • The Ghost Road (Regeneration, #3)
Barry Unsworth was born in 1930 in a mining village in Durham, and he attended Stockton-on-Tees Grammar School and Manchester University, B.A., 1951.

From 1951-53, in the British Army, Royal Corps of Signals, he served and became second lieutenant.

A teacher and a novelist, Unsworth worked as a lecturer in English at Norwood Technical College, London, at University of Athens for the British Council
More about Barry Unsworth...

Other Books in the Series

Sacred Hunger (2 books)
  • The Quality of Mercy (Sacred Hunger, #2)

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“Nothing a man suffers will prevent him from inflicting suffering on others. Indeed, it will teach him the way” 23 likes
“Money is sacred as everyone knows... So then must be the hunger for it and the means we use to obtain it. Once a man is in debt he becomes a flesh and blood form of money, a walking investment. You can do what you like with him, you can work him to death or you can sell him. This cannot be called cruelty or greed because we are seeking only to recover our investment and that is a sacred duty.” 11 likes
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