Tayfun's Reviews > Feeding the Ghosts

Feeding the Ghosts by Fred D'Aguiar
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Starting from the prologue to the epilogue, a wide variety of different narrative features are observed throughout the novel, and all of these techniques are intended to give an accurate account of what has happened on the Zong as well as of what might have happened, sometimes by clinging to reality, other times trying to dramatize it.

In the prologue, we are told by whom we later assume to be a heterodiegetic narrator that “the sea is slavery” (3). The narrator, whom we do not see as a character in the story, goes on to tell us about how over three days 132 bodies were flung at the sea, and how water replaced air in 132 of these bodies, and how all those bodies melted down to bones pretty soon and so on. I cannot help but feel that the tone used in the novel overdramatizes the brutality of the events that took place on the Zong, which leaves a slightly bitter taste in one’s mouth as the topic around which the novel revolves is already unpleasant enough to cause a great deal of disturbance. Then again, that is only one man’s opinion; it is utterly personal and yet not intentionally trivial.

The provocation of feelings can be observed in the formation of mental images of death and dead bodies being used through poetically descriptive words, which paves the way for certain scenes to be more visual so that the story is imaginatively present and relatable to the readers — lyrical prose has, after all, greater power over senses and perceptions when it comes to a piece of literature concerning human nature and moral values.

While captivity narrative originally deals with the indigenous peoples of North America, I feel it would not be irrelevant to classify D’Aguiar’s Feeding the Ghost as a mere example, for the simple fact that in the following chapters we are introduced to the point of view of a whole new character, Mintah (the captive), who has been captivated by the captain of the ship, Captain Cunningham, and his first mate, Kelsey (the enemies). Another reason for this classification would be that captivity narratives are known to bring into question many aspects of the captives’ lives whether or not they are based on true events or contain fictional elements. And in the case of Feeding the Ghosts, we are invited to explore different aspects of the captives’ lives through the perspective of Mintah (e.g. Chapter 11), an individual of African descent, as can be seen in the following quotation:

“The sick men are taken out and not returned. We want to believe for a long time that the sailors have found other quarters for them. We say that this must be what is happening. The sick are being cared for. But the men are taken above deck and not returned. Only the sailors return for more of them. Then they start to take sick women and I know for sure what I did not want to think could be true. Even as I say it with the others none of us truly believe what we say. They are throwing the sick into the sea.” (122)


A remarkable point to note is that D’Aguiar’s vigorously detailed descriptions of how and what Mintah feels invite the reader into this disorienting experience of being on the Zong with her. However, at times I felt overwhelmed by the “imagery overdose” as I think the overuse of imagery led the book to the point where it lost its intended effect.

In the epilogue, however, we are introduced to a potentially reliable narrator in the first-person plural, directly addressing the reader: “I am in your community, in a cottage or apartment or cardboard box, tucked away in a quiet corner, ruminating over these things. I am not sure who is who, you or I. There is no fear, nor shame in this piece of information.” (147) We are provided with no clue as to who is speaking, which I reckon responds to the work’s ambiguity in a way that multiple perspectives multiply the challenges the victims of the horrifying incident that occurred on the Zong must have gone through.

Fred D’Aguiar seems to unite the historical facts and fiction to provocatively dramatize the voyage and the massacre on the Zong, hence the period of transatlantic slavery. With his choice of multiple narrative techniques, one can safely conclude that D’Aguiar contributes significantly to the representation of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Overall, though the book was well-structured, it could have potentially been quite the opposite of what I ended up with.
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Reading Progress

December 12, 2018 – Shelved
December 12, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
January 11, 2019 – Started Reading
January 17, 2019 – Finished Reading

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