ALL SOULS' RISING by Madison Smartt Bell


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 The clash of cultures and the blood of revolution form the contours of a long, uneven tale of the 18th-century slave uprising in Haiti. The prolific Bell (Save Me, Joe Louis, 1993, etc.) here undertakes the portrayal of legendary figure Toussaint L'Ouverture, the slave who started a revolution and whose intellect and noble cunning recast him as the Napoleon of the New World. Saint Domingue, with it's varied population of slaves and aristocrats, of Creoles and 64 different ranks of mulattoes, lived in an uneasy alliance that deteriorated with the onset of the French Revolution, which further splintered society into royalist and Jacobin camps. From this mix, Bell assembles a broad cast of characters to follow, beginning with the first whispers of unrest, into the heat of the savage rebellion, and to the fall of the French colony. The shifting perspectivesfrom the tales of escaped slave Riau, who tells of his time in Toussaint's army, to the journey of Dr. HÇbert, fresh from France to look for his missing sister, to the sadistic plantation owner Arnaudprovide a panoramic study of the revolt. But the principal character of this fiction is violence, ever present and speaking louder than the characters of flesh and blood. Bell provides an all too realistic depiction of the atrocities of both colonial life and war, describing rape and torturebeing flayed alive, slowly dismembered, and undergoing a host of other imaginative abominationsin the most minute, lengthy detail. This in some ways is the novel's failing. The bombardment of graphic imagery offers a realistic portrait but also detracts from the story of revolutionmaking violence the dominant theme and putting the important ideological questions that Bell raises in the back seat. A rousing and vivid account of the independence of Haiti, though at times overburdened by its own excesses.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-43989-7
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1995


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