Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Quick Book Reviews

The Grand Slave Emporium: Cape Coast Castle and the British Slave Trade
William St. Clair

This fine and concise book by William St. Clair focuses on the life of one specific building; Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle, which I was fortunate enough to visit back in 2000. St. Clair examines all facets of the Castle and debunks many myths. The focus is, of course, on the role of the Castle as a facilitator for the slave trade and St. Clair paints a vivid picture of all of those involved, from the ships’ Captains to the local tribal Chiefs to the slaves working in the Castle itself. The most striking aspect of the trade and life at the Castle, as portrayed by St. Clair, is the sheer normalcy of it all. Overall, it is an impressive piece of work and St. Clair’s writing style has a sufficiently loose feel to it that will engage most readers.

There are some problems, though. First of all, the discussion of the outgoing slaves and their life at the Castle is only briefly discussed. I certainly would have expected more, but this is perhaps because most of St. Clair research is based on the Castle’s archival documents and very little about the slaves was likely recorded. I would have also have liked to see more discussion of the Castle’s history post-1850 or so as that is only briefly touched upon. It would have also been helpful to provide a brief overview of local tribes and geography to provide context. Related to that point, some political context was needed to makes sense of certain events such as the Asante War of the 1870s. All in all, it is an excellent work and highly recommended for anyone interested in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The Inheritance of Loss
Kiran Desai

The 2006 Mann Booker Prize winner. This novel has a dreamlike feel to it, as the reader is transported to northern India in the foothills of the Himalayas. We are introduced to each character slowly and their personalities and motivations are revealed as certain political events transpire around them. All of the is counterbalanced by a subplot involved one character searching for the American dream in a series of below minimum wage kitchen jobs. Many big issues are raised in these pages, including the clash between colonial sensibilities and the modern Indian identity is ever present, but ultimately no resolution is reached. It’s lovely but a little rudderless – a collection of arias rather than a full opera.

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