Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

I live in the South. Every day, I see relics of days that to some symbolize the glory of the South, to others, a time of great shame for humankind. I was not born into southern culture (indeed, my own family fled from persecution elsewhere to settle in the United States in the days before World War I), but I still feel the scars that the enslavement of African Americans left on our world. When a friend from another country had trouble enjoying a visit to Charleston, saying he could feel the pain of slavery as he walked the streets of the city, it was a knife to my heart. It is not the way we live now, at least not in this part of the world, and while we are not perfect, I wonder how long those who inhabit this land will bear the responsibility of scars of the past.

Many people have a romanticized vision of slavery, due in part to its depiction in novels and movies. But even the kindest rendition in print or screen cannot deny that at its core, slavery involves ownership of one person over another. Sweetsmoke presents the reader with a huge array of relationships between between people of the South in 1862. The brutality is unflinching, the loyalties complex, the relationships tangled. It is a glimpse into the darkness of our past, exploring diverse aspects of the human psyche. It's a retelling of that wound in our national history called the Civil War.  It's a character study of a man of passions and principles, despite his enslavement.  It's a reminder that our greatest downfall is man's inhumanity to man, and our greatest strength is our ability to open our hearts to other people, and strive for what is right. I thought the author's technique of using quotation marks around the speech of free people, black or white, and none around the speech of the enslaved was a powerful tool to keep the reader reminded of the degradation of the human spirit when we succumb to the evils of saying we own another individual.

This is a book that is complex, and I may reread it, because there are certainly nuances I missed. There were some moments in it that opened my eyes, not so much about the institution of slavery, but more regarding how the world was in that time-- figuring out how to pass a message, cross a river, make a rendezvous. I even found myself looking up some of the herbs and medicinal plants mentioned, as that's an interest of mine.

Many thanks to my friend Maggie, who recommended this book to me. I will pass it on thoughtfully.

Tags: advanced-reader-copy, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-sad, made-me-think, places-i-have-been, read, read-in-2015, read-on-recommendation, set-in-the-south, taught-me-something, uncomfortable-reading-but-good


  1. Looks like a very interesting book, Amy. I belong to a FB book club. Lots of book recommendations. And evaluations. And writing of experiences. Started by a group of Peace Core friends. I can show it to you and introduce you to the group.

  2. Would like that, though I'm part of a couple of online book groups already, and probably should try to find one with people I can physically see, instead of imaginary friends. The book is in the library downstairs, now, btw. Yours for the taking!