A bloody 18th-century rebellion lives long in the memory of a Caribbean estate in Hall’s debut memoir.
The author was born in 1945 and grew up on a spice estate in Grenada called Belvidere, where planting and harvesting had gone on since the 18th century. The stilt-supported barracks of the laborers almost perfectly resembled the cabins of their enslaved ancestors, and their children were barred from exploring the parasite-ridden outdoors or the kitchen buildings where food was prepared on stone slabs and “dried wood and oil-rich nutmeg branches, placed between the stones, served as cooking fuel.” At Belvidere, from a perch on his family’s front doorsill, Hall heard stories of the estate’s notorious former occupant, Julien Fédon, and the bloody rebellion he incited in the spring of 1795 that “seized and plundered British estates,” assumed control of the island (except for the seat of government), and eventually cost the lives of thousands of Grenadians. Inspired by the revolutions in Haiti, the United States, and France, Fédon, a seasoned French officer, masterfully played various sides of the struggle—French, British, Grenadian, and Hessian—against one another and nearly succeeded in changing the history of the Western Hemisphere. In this volume, Fédon’s story alternates with chapters in which Hall tells of his own childhood on the plantation in a sweet, nostalgic tone. He describes it, convincingly, as a melting pot, encompassing “poor whites” and people whose skin color he describes as “black as tar” as well as plenty of East Indians. Among the latter was the author’s adopted mother, an illiterate farm laborer who nearly burst with happiness when her son was admitted to exclusive schools. “Wherever people came from,” one wise old resident told him, “we were one people when we worked at Belvidere.” Hall brings the world of his youth to life with anecdotes that live up to the high billing of their chapter titles. Readers learn about the fascinating mix of religions at Belvidere as well as about the custom of swinging children over gravestones to protect them from curses; sightings of ghosts in the dismal woods; and the legend of the “loupgarou,” island vampires who were allegedly capable of manifesting themselves as giant balls of fire. As a result, Hall’s book will absorb readers for hours.
Childhood memories alternate with scenes of revolution and defeat in this complex work from a promising new voice.