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Sacred Hunger

by Barry Unsworth

Publishers Weekly This vast, vividly realistic historical novel follows the crew of a slave-trading vessel from its Liverpool shipyard through days at anchor bartering human cargo on the Guinea Coast, then on beyond the slaver's disease-ridden and mutinous Middle Passage. With an epic ambition that seems suited to its 18th-century setting, Unsworth ( Stone Virgin ) takes on a big theme--greed, the animating ``sacred hunger'' of the title--but at the same time fills his huge canvas with the alternately fascinating and horrifying details of shipboard life, colonial plunder and power struggles, the London clubs of absentee sugar lords, even a pidgin Utopia created by slaves and seamen on unclaimed Florida coast. Deftly utilizing a flood of period detail, Unsworth has written a book whose stately pace, like the scope of its meditations, seems accurately to evoke the age. Tackling here a central perversity of our history--the keeping of slaves in a land where ``all men are created equal''--Unsworth illuminates the barbaric cruelty of slavery, as well as the subtler habits of politics and character that it creates. As intricate as it is immense, this masterwork rewards every turn of its 640 pages. (July) one with a continuing fascination for readers and authors alike--Unsworth illuminates its cruel ties and miscarriages, its floggings and murders, as well as the subtler habits of politics and character that it creates. As intricate as it is immense, this masterwork rewards every turn of its 640 pages. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus A masterful, thoroughly engrossing tale from acclaimed historical novelist Unsworth (Pascali's Island, 1980; Stone Virgin, 1986)--about the British slave trade in the mid-18th century and a shipboard mutiny from which arose a community based on racial equality. Through the perspectives of Erasmus Kemp, son of the shipowner and an obsessive, insensitive youth; and Matthew Paris--his cousin, a doctor (and ship's physician) recently imprisoned for publishing his seditious views in favor of evolution--Unsworth contrasts imagery of a genteel life in England with an increasingly brutal, barbaric existence under the command of the maniacal Captain Thurso. As slaves are collected from traders along the African coast, the fortunes of the owner decline precipitously, with his suicide and the ruin of Erasmus's fanciful plans of empire-building and grandeur through a good marriage the result. Becalmed, the ship's human cargo begins to sicken and die, and an increasingly vexed Thurso opts to alleviate matters by throwing ailing slaves overboard--an act spurring Paris and the crew to kill him. After landing on the remote coast of Florida, ex-slaves and sailors live in freedom for 12 years--inspired by the utopian ideals of an itinerant artist picked up in Africa--until they are captured by soldiers under Erasmus, who, consumed by the same sacred hunger for wealth that made chattel of human beings, has spared no effort to hunt down the cousin whom he blames for the loss of his dream. Intense in its elaboration of two vastly different visions of destiny and cause-and-effect, more steeped in history than Charles Johnson's Middle Passage: a riveting, outstanding addition to an already impressive oeuvre.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal With its graphic depiction of the 18th-century slave trade and a society driven by the desire to maximize profit regardless of the human cost, this new novel by the author of Pascali's Island (Penguin, 1988) offers a dark view of human nature clearly relevant to our own time. William Kemp hopes to recoup his losses in cotton speculation by entering the Triangular Trade. As ship's doctor, his nephew Matthew experiences firsthand the horrors of shipboard life, ultimately leading a revolt that lands the crew and remaining slaves on the southeastern coast of Florida. Here they try to establish ``a paradise place,'' but events force Matthew to conclude that ``nothing a man suffers will prevent him from inflicting suffering on others. Indeed, it will teach him the way.'' Though the pace drags at times, taken as a whole this is a masterful effort that delivers an important message. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.