Sunday, October 19, 2008

58. Sweetsmoke

by David Fuller

I received this advanced reading copy as part of LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. It’s the story of a 30-year-old slave named Cassius Howard, a carpenter on the Sweetsmoke tobacco plantation in Virginia. It starts on July 1, 1862, and all of the action takes place over the next three months, ending shortly after the Civil War Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg in September of that year.

The plot centers on a mystery – Cassius is trying to figure out who killed free black Emoline Justice, who took taught Cassius to read and write. She took care of him when his master, Hoke Howard, had him whipped him severely when he tried to run away five years earlier, after his wife commits suicide when her infant son is sold away.

The strength of the novel is in the depiction of slavery during this period, as well as the description of the aforementioned battle. According to author David Fuller (a screenwriter), he did over eight years of research “on the subjects of slavery, America in the 1800s, the Civil War, particularly Antietam, and other related subjects like tobacco and the currency of the time.” It shows. Fuller has painted slaves and slaveholders not as the usual caricatures, but as real people with emotions, regrets, flaws, fears, and foibles. His descriptions of the settings and events of his story made me feel as though I was actually there.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, particularly that set in the Civil War era, or anyone who would like to learn more about that “peculiar institution.”

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