A vivid depiction of the trade and the ruined lives left in its wake.

A RESPECTABLE TRADE

The latest page-turner from Gregory (The Boleyn Inheritance, Dec. 2006, etc.) is a sobering account of the English slave trade, with a bit of romance thrown in.

In 1787 Africa, Mehuru, an envoy for his Yoruban king, is traveling the empire to deliver the king’s edict: Yorubans will desist in all slave-trading with white slavers. Mehuru is captured by the English and thrown onto a slave ship owned by Josiah Cole, a small Bristol merchant with dreams of advancement. He and his sister Sarah have done all they can with their three modest vessels—they kidnap Africans, trade them for sugar and rum in the West Indies, then sell the goods in England—but since much of the better trade is denied them because of their class, Josiah decides to marry up. He finds Frances Scott, niece to a prominent lord, but herself a penniless orphan. To both, it is an even exchange—Josiah gets connections to circles of business he could never enter, and Frances has a home. It is Josiah and Sarah’s new plan that a handful of slaves will be brought back to England where Frances will tutor them in the ways of the gentry, selling them for an enormous profit. Mehuru and ten others are chained in a cellar, where they are half-starved, raped by Josiah’s house guest and whipped, while spending afternoons in the parlor learning polite English. Frances and Mehuru eventually fall in love, and Josiah risks ruin in financial schemes dependent on a single ship cruelly over-packed with captured Africans. The success of this tale lies in the author’s nuanced portraits: Frances, a product of her class, is refined, ignorant and selfish (even while devoted to Mehuru, she is shocked when he joins radicals dedicated to ceasing the trade—her livelihood). Cultured Mehuru lives in a state of astonishment that other humans could be so barbaric. And most interestingly, Sarah, proud of her independence and financial partnership with Josiah, is crushed when he forces her to stay cooped up with Frances and become a “lady.”

A vivid depiction of the trade and the ruined lives left in its wake.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-7432-7254-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more