I wrote this so I'm biased! But I'll tell you why I love this book:
*It tells the story of a heroine I'm so proud of -- a sharp, honest young girl maki...moreI wrote this so I'm biased! But I'll tell you why I love this book:
*It tells the story of a heroine I'm so proud of -- a sharp, honest young girl making the turbulent journey of adolescence across three continents
*It offers a new perspective on important issues that need fresh examination including: o the superiority complex Westerners have regarding the so-called "Third World" o the effect of single parenthood on girl children in particular o what it means to grow up American/British/etc when your parents are trying to raise you as a good African/Jamaican/Trinidadian/etc
*It was written over 6 years of immense professional & spiritual change in my life
**spoiler alert** Allende presents an extremely nuanced account of the complexities of the slave system in Saint Domingue and New Orleans (and tangent...more**spoiler alert** Allende presents an extremely nuanced account of the complexities of the slave system in Saint Domingue and New Orleans (and tangentially, Cuba) in the 1700s. There's no perspective that's left unexplored - or unaffected by another perspective. Everyone sits in the boiling soup that is slavery, purposely or inadvertently exchanging essences, and irreversibly changed.
The proud African who will never accept slavery must protect the white master from murderous revolt because the master shares a child with the mulatta slave the African is in love with, for example. Likewise the outspoken abolitionist white doctor lives in shame, leading a double life in which he cannot openly acknowledge his black wife and the children they share. The characters may be "slaves", "masters", "cocottes", "blacks", "whites", "quadroons", etc, but they are flesh and bone first, imbued with their own respective set of chinks and admirable qualities.
Freedom is treated as a nebulous concept, as master is bound to his slave when she is the only one who can connect with his children; and a freed slave has few prospects of attaining paid work in a climate of open and violent racism. What it means to be free becomes even more tenuous when the women of the time are discussed. Marriage is its own slavery, in a way, as wives resort to trickery, espionage, and manipulation to get what they want from their husbands. Infidelity is expected and accepted as long as it is cloaked in hypocrisy -- a system that ironically works to the advantage of the women of color who are eluded the marriage option. The best a black woman or mulatta can hope for is "placement" with a rich white man who will keep her as his #1 side-piece.
And what of the slaves who led the revolts? As they negotiate with their former captors, the concessions they are willing to make call "freedom" into question all the more as issues of power and international political games spike the freedom punch.
Love is infinitely more complicated in the bubbling cauldron of slavery, and the attendant sex and mind games. Black mothers must learn to love in a way that allows them to live for another day when their children are torn from their breasts -- or can be at any moment. Fathers cannot acknowledge the first born sons of their loins because the mother is a slave; yet this mother has been more of a wife to him than the wife acknowledged by society. And how many incestuous trysts -- witting and unwitting -- took place between whites and the blood-related slaves they raped or loved?
Religion and faith are in this soup too. The tenets and practices of voodoo, Catholicism and Protestantism are mingled by all in the society, as is skepticism, agnosticism, and atheism. Rationalizations for the cruelest injustices can only salve the conscience for so long while God, rightousness, and justice become topics of mortal interest as human beings are stripped of their humanity in the vortex of power, greed, and violence. For some, the conclusion is there is no God, for most the fear and hope is that there is a Holy Spirit in charge of all the madness -- that justice will prevail. And so amulets and ceremonies and church services and prayers abound.
I could go on, but I'll conclude by saying that even with her even-handed, thoroughly researched, immensely educational account of slavery, Allende manages to keep the prose seductive and steamy, even. Her words, her phrasing -- they wink their eyes and bat their lashes at the reader; and one can imagine Allende writing this book with a pen in one hand, a silk fan in the other, hair piled high to accentuate a heaving decolletage exaggerated by the contriction of a whalebone corset.
Makes me want to do my own independent research on Toussaint Louverture and slavery in the Caribbean and makes me want to write my own epic historical African novel.
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, author of Powder Necklace: A Novel (Wsp Readers Club) (less)
i loved this book -- which was shortlisted for the 2010 commonwealth writers prize -- about three generations of ghanaian women grappling with the vic...morei loved this book -- which was shortlisted for the 2010 commonwealth writers prize -- about three generations of ghanaian women grappling with the vicissitudes of life against a backdrop of political unrest. a very human telling of the history of ghana.(less)
this book did an amazing job of conveying the heart of the black male project/council flat experience. one of the most poignant moments in the book is...morethis book did an amazing job of conveying the heart of the black male project/council flat experience. one of the most poignant moments in the book is when the main character got into a chest-puffing match with another man on the tube. it was heartbreaking to think that men have to resort to violence just to combat this idea of being thought of as a punk. there is a lot of violence and brutality in the book, but a tenderness that made me misty-eyed as well. (less)
one of the best books i've ever read. as a writer, i learned the importance of taking my time to tell a story. as a reader, i knew the title character...moreone of the best books i've ever read. as a writer, i learned the importance of taking my time to tell a story. as a reader, i knew the title character. she head flesh and feelings and she recounted her story to me on the subway, on my couch, and everywhere else i could open the book. (less)
Burleigh took her time to research and explain the cultural / historical context that both Meredith Kercher and Amanda Kn...moreA compelling, riveting read.
Burleigh took her time to research and explain the cultural / historical context that both Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox came to meet during their study abroad experiences; which was incredibly helpful in terms of understanding how sexuality, college life, grief, etc could be (mis)construed by the different nationalities involved. It was chilling to imagine the dark side of getting "lost in translation", and, ultimately terribly sad to accept that what actually happened in the horrible moments Meredith was murdered remains a mystery.
Burleigh does not share whether she thinks Knox is guilty or not; and after reading it, I didn't come away with a strong opinion about Knox's guilt or innocence. The book does point out so many loose ends the police didn't properly investigate.
Unfortunately, the high profile nature of the case seems to have made the powers that handled the investigation defensive, rather than willing to accept that they could have done -- and still can do -- some things better to ascertain guilt or innocence beyond the shadow of a doubt. But the thing is, "the shadow of a doubt" standard rules American jury trials, not Italian ones.
Bottom line, the cultural differences that seem quaint and charming when you're on holiday, can be the exact opposite should you get caught on the wrong side of the law in another country. I definitely recommend. (less)