Peter's Reviews > Oroonoko or, The Royal Slave

Oroonoko or, The Royal Slave by Aphra Behn
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Apr 07, 12

Read from April 05 to 07, 2012

Once again another book that I would never have heard of let alone read had it not been on the 1001 list and that would have been a shame.

Aphra Behn is herself as interesting as the story. A professional writer, is this is reputed to be the first ever novel, having turned writer after release from a debtors prison but also a spy, anti-slavery and suspected of taken a black lover, which as a white woman would have been strictly taboo back then. Behn's literary background is as a playwright and you can certainly feel this in her writing as there is a certain rhythm throughout although the strange use of punctuation, in particular apostrophes, initially feels rather odd.

It is interesting that Oroonoko is described as a person ,with handsome features, rather than a pure commodity as at the time when this book was written 'Blacks' would have been seen as lesser lifeforms but then there seems little distinction between the imported slaves and the local Indians tribes. The book can certainly be seen as anti-slavery because it is the Oroonoko who is the one having all the noble characteristics, loving, honest, brave, lenient etc. He is tricked into slavery rather than captured in battle and even his home country is depicted as having a structural society rather than just a group of Blacks running around with spears killing each other where even battles are pre-arranged.In contrast the few Whites come out with any credit. They are painted as duplicitous, cruel and cowards. However it is also a dig at socity as a whole because very few people of authority, black or white, come out totally unscathed, even the King back in Orookono's home is also seen as a liar and impotent.

But it also it can be read as a love story, Oroonoko loses his position in his homeland as a direct consequance of his love for Imoinda, also described in very flattering terms, and it is this love that eventually leads to his death.

On the whole the story is showing its age but is still worth a read.
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