Novel Regards Slave Trade In Reverse
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
What if the slave trade had happened in reverse with African slave traders raiding Europe? British writer Bernardine Evaristo asked that question in her new novel, "Blonde Roots." Alan Cheuse has this review.
ALAN CHEUSE: The main character is a woman named Doris Scagglethorpe. She's a house servant with a body worn by childbirth, but in whose heart the desire for freedom still burns. Her tale begins on a dark night when she, with the help of some abolitionist Aphrikans - that's spelled A-P-H-R-I-K-A-N - makes her escape from Londola(ph), the African capital of the UK of Great Ambosa(ph). But this only lands her in deeper trouble. She's recaptured and shipped to the New World.
While Doris suffers the middle passage, Evaristo enlightens us with an entertaining parody of a slave master's rationalizations of his inhumanity. "Dear reader," he states, "suffice to say that running a slaver meant having to be responsible for the welfare of the cargo rather as a parent for its children." In the New World, off the coast of America in the colonies of the west Japanese islands, Doris finds herself condemned to work in a dangerous sugarcane mill on an isolated plantation. In this part of the world, you try to escape and get caught, and you lose your foot.
Doris's flight, her re-enslavement, and her ultimate struggle to be free move along with the liveliness of a B movie. Evaristo's themes are important, slavery at its root. And she wields language and messes with history and geography with the gusto of someone having a great time with a great subject. A lot of that fun rubs off on the reader. Evaristo works very close to farce, but none of what she does ever seems nonsensical.
NORRIS: That's Alan Cheuse reviewing the new novel "Blonde Roots" by Bernardine Evaristo. Alan has his own new novel. It's called "To Catch the Lightning."
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