Slavery as it existed in Africa has seldom been portrayedand never with such texture, detail, and authentic emotion. Inspired by actual 19th-century court records, Unconfessed is a breathtaking literary tour de force. They called her Sila van den Kaap, slave woman of Jacobus Stephanus Van der Wat of Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. A woman moved from master to master, farm to farm, anddriven by the horrors of slavery to commit an unspeakable crimefrom prison to prison. A woman fit for hanging . . . condemned to death on April 30, 1823, but whose sentence the English, having recently wrested authority from the Dutch settlers, saw fit to commute to a lengthy term on the notorious Robben Island.
Sila spends her days in the prison quarry, breaking stones for Cape Towns streets and walls. She remembers the day her childhood ended, when slave catchers came whipping the air and the ground and we were like deer whipped into the smaller and smaller circle of our fear. Sila remembers her masters, especially Oumiesies (old Missus), who in her will granted Sila her freedom, but Theron, Oumiesies vicious and mercenary son, destroys the will and with it Silas life. Sila remembers her children, with joy and with pain, and imagines herself a great bird that could sweep them up in her wings and set them safely on a branch above all harm. Unconfessed is an epic novel that connects the reader to the unimaginable through the force of poetry and a far-reaching imagination.
Unconfessed is rambling, circular and sometimes confusing; but it's also a lyrical, powerful and important piece of writing. Depending on your viewpoint you may side with the reviewer for Kirkus who describes it as "a gorgeous, devastating song of freedom that will inevitably be compared to Toni Morrison's Beloved" or Entertainment Weekly who thinks it "plods along like Gertrude Stein with a head cold." (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Yvette Christiansë, a professor at Fordham University, brings both a scholar's meticulous research and an academic's bloodless prose style to Unconfessed, which plods along like Gertrude Stein with a head cold. Grade: B-
The New York Times - Uzodinma Iweala
Sila, her voice alternating between lucidity and lunacy, must in turn represent her abused people. Yet she does not speak strongly for them. Her language — fragmented and staccato, interspersed with ruminations in italics and phrases in Dutch — is meant to convey a poetic madness it cannot quite achieve. Rather than locking us in Sila’s world, the half-step toward insanity bars us from gaining access to her emotional core. As a result, we remain distant, unable truly to feel Sila’s destabilizing sadness and rage. She becomes merely an object of pity.
We read on, though, because Christiansë is able to create an enveloping air of mystery in her slow revelations of the specific nature of Sila’s crime and punishment. This mastery of suspenseful plotting shows in both the present action and the flashbacks, even if the language that stitches them together can prove a bit weak.
Booklist - Hazel Rochman
The dense meditation back and forth is much too repetitive, but the history is authentic, and Sila's brave, desperate voice reveals the vicious brutality as well as surprising discoveries of love and friendship.
[The] absorbing, lyrical narrative is circular: she alternates between exhausted lament, seething rage and scripture-tinged poetic soliloquy.
Impossible to put down, this work deserves a place beside such classics as Toni Morrison's Beloved and Edward P. Jones's The Known World. Highly recommended.
A gorgeous, devastating song of freedom that will inevitably be compared to Toni Morrison's Beloved. But it deserves to stand on its own.
Yvette Christiansë was born in South Africa under apartheid and emigrated
with her family via Swaziland to Australia at the age of eighteen. She now
teaches African American literature and post colonial studies at Fordham
University. Unconfessed is her first novel, following a collection of
poetry, Castaway, published in 1999.
Modern Day Slavery - did you know? According to the
US State Department, slavery is now the third largest type of illegal trade
in the world (after drugs and weapons); every year between 600,000 and 800,000
people are trafficked across national borders with about 17,500 entering the
USA. Many advocacy sources put the figures much higher, for example some say that about 1 million children in Asia alone are victims of the sex trade. In June
2006, British authorities announced that
slave auctions were being held at British airports with brothel keepers
bidding on women arriving under duress from Eastern Europe.
trafficking appears to be flourishing because of...
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