After his story collection The Southern Cross (2009), Horack’s first novel tracks the adventures of a pygmy (and runaway slave) in early-19th-century Florida.
Kau is a pygmy from central Africa. A tribal dispute leaves his family dead. Sold into slavery, he works for five years for a foul-tempered innkeeper in Georgia. By 1815, he’s had enough. The 29-year-old African enlists the help of Benjamin, the innkeeper’s son, in his escape, but when he refuses to allow Benjamin to accompany him, things go horribly wrong. He kills Benjamin, not intentionally, but murder is murder, and Kau will see himself as “a tiny cursed child-killer.” He makes his way to Florida. Not yet a U.S. territory, it’s a no-man’s-land, a patchwork occupied by the British, Spanish and Americans, as well as Indian tribes and runaway slaves. For Kau, violence proves inescapable. Before leaving Georgia, he was forced to kill a sentinel and a slavecatcher. He falls in with some redsticks (Creek Indians) who pressgang him into an attack on some white highwaymen. The redsticks die; Kau lives. His journey continues in its loose-jointed, anecdotal way until he crosses the path of the so-called General Garçon. The General is a highly educated runaway who has inherited a fort from the departing British. A charismatic leader, he has forged an alliance of English and Spanish-speaking blacks and Choctaws. His mission, to repel the advancing Americans, is doomed but galvanizing, more so than Kau’s quest for a sanctuary. It is significant that Kau’s finest hour comes as a dancing decoy who lures some American sailors to their death. Twice Kau attempts to leave the fort, and twice he returns, a yo-yo answering the General’s magnetic pull. So the novel is thrown out of whack, and the destination and salvation of the little fellow with the filed teeth ceases to matter that much.
Structurally flawed, but remarkably evocative—Horack’s Florida is as real as your own backyard.