Book Review: Sweetsmoke by David Fuller
Sweetsmoke by David Fuller
Sweetsmoke is the debut novel from a writer with unmistakable talent, set in 1862 in Virginia. I found the book a little slow to begin with, but suspect this may be because I began reading it on a plane when I was dog-tired. However, several chapters in I was gripped by the story of Cassius Howard, a skilled carpenter and slave on the ‘Sweetsmoke’ tobacco plantation, who searches at great personal cost to find the truth about who murdered freed black woman, Emoline, a remarkable character who secretly taught Cassius to read and once saved his life. He soon learns that there is more to Emoline’s death – and her life – than first meets the eye.
Part whodunit, part love story, part historical fiction, Sweetsmoke is a highly original work that captures the harrowing daily indignities suffered by the slaves during this period in history, of being treated as little more than beasts, of being reprimanded or beaten for little or no reason – or everyone’s worst fear, that at any time their families could be torn apart and on-sold, never to see spouses or children again. This is a world where to be a black woman and beautiful was ultimately a curse. Sweetsmoke is also a story that reveals the brutality of the American Civil War, a hellish conflict resulting in great loss and devastation, of shattered families and broken minds. Sweetsmoke is a subtle, but powerfully written book, and its main protagonist Cassius is unforgettable. This is a book about people dealing with a legacy of loss and injustice, and the fight for identity and freedom. Sweetsmoke is an accomplished, thought-provoking read.