Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sweetsmoke, by David Fuller

This is for Historical Tapestry's blog challenge - Q is for Quashee.

Cassius is a slave, hardened by loss and inured to love, on a Virginia tobacco plantation: Sweetsmoke. It is 1862, and the war is a constant presence in his life and the lives of the rest of the plantation. The plantation owners have already lost one son to the war, and that son sent two of his favorite slaves to Sweetsmoke. When the beautiful Quashee arrives, the rest of the slaves come to believe that she is the bearer of bad luck, but Cassius can't help but notice her extraordinary intelligence and grace.

Cassius, though, has his own problems. He learns that a beloved friend has died, and he vows to avenge her death. Such a promise, however, is difficult for a black man, a slave in Virginia, to uphold, and the story follows his clever exploits as he manuevers the treacherous waters of the south.

Both Cassius and Quashee are interesting characters for whom I was happy to root. In fact, almost all the characters in Sweetsmoke are memorable and well-realized. My interest in them helped sustain me as I cringed, periodically, at the heavy-handed writing. Mr. Fuller describes plantation life and the war convincingly, but he often succumbs to the temptation to overdramatize his characters' thoughts, including in ways that lead to rapid reversals of heart from one page to another. For example, Cassius has a falling out with a friend, and after two angry lines of dialogue from her, Cassius is left reeling: "An invisible wall was now between them, as if the past had never occurred." A bit extreme, no? Or, when Cassius decides that General Lee will when the war for the south: "This thought depressed him more than he had thought possible."

Overall, though, it's an engaging story. If you really enjoy Civil War stories, this one is probably worth your time.

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Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma