I finished the first book in the TBR list that I came up with a few posts ago. I’ve decided to do “book reports” to keep a record of what I’ve read, as well as my thoughts on the individual books. If you’re interested in a knitting post, check back next time. It will just be more pink knitting, anyway.
All Souls’ Rising, by Madison Smartt Bell, is the first of a trilogy of novels about the slave revolt in Haiti in the 1790’s. I found this to be a difficult read, for a number of reasons. First, it deals with a period of history that I knew little or nothing about. The book just jumps into the story, without a lot of expository passages to tell you what’s been going on. In Bell’s defense, he includes a chronology in the back of the book, but for those of us not familiar with this event, it involves a lot of flipping back and forth. The story takes place at the time of the French Revolution. Haiti was a French colony at the time, and slavery was a central part of the economy. From the accounts in the book, it was also an extremely barbaric place. The revolutionary fervor spread to the colony of Haiti, and ultimately led to an uprising of all people of color on the island, slaves and free mulattos alike. The history is rather convoluted, and even after finishing the first book in the series, I’m not entirely clear as to all the events that took place. I’m also unfamiliar enough with the history to know how much of the book is factual, and how much fictional license Bell took with the story. This article clears up some of the historical confusion, and will be very helpful in keeping up with the narrative.
The other difficulty I had with the book is the level of violence. There are some horrific passages describing both the actions of the rebellious slaves as well as the colonial planters and how they treated their slaves. At times I had to set this book aside for a few days, and I’m not really a wimp when it comes to blood and gore in books or movies. Having made it through the first volume, I’d have to say that his portrayal of the violence is probably necessary, as it really is an essential part of the story line.
A third thing that was more of an annoyance and a personal preference than a “difficulty” was Bell’s use of foreign phrases. He uses both French and Creole terms fairly liberally throughout the book. There is a “Devil’s Dictionary” in the back, but again, it involves some annoying flipping around to define terms in the text. A lot of the French passages aren’t translated, which frustrates me in general.
Having said all that, I would recommend this book. It’s generally well-written, and the characters are interesting. Toussaint, the slave who ultimately becomes the leader of the revolt, was probably the character who seemed the most wooden to me, especially early on in the book. His character reads more like a legend (which he was) than a real flesh-and-blood human.
Another slave, Riau, was far more riveting. He seems to be a more sincere character, if rarely likeable. The charactor of Antoine Hebert, the French doctor caught up in the events of the revolution, was my favorite. He travels to Haiti, right as the slave revolt is beginning, to straighten out the affairs of his deceased plantation-owner brother-in-law. He also is on a mission to find his sister, who has disappeared from the plantation with her young child.
The first volume in the trilogy ends during the summer of 1793, when the town of Le Cap is looted and burned by the slave rebels. I am interested enough in the fictional characters in the first volume to have already started the second in the series, “Master Of The Crossroads”. My “one-a-month” reading plan is probably going to get off track fairly quickly. Not only is this one a three-volume series, but the next on my list is “Niccolo Rising“, the first volume in an 8-volume series, “The House Of Niccolo”, by Dorothy Dunnett. While I’ll certainly get 12 books read this year (historically I read many more than that in a year!), it may not end up being the 12 from the list.
Next time: pink knitting, maybe some not-pink knitting, Madrona, and knitting in public!