Cassius has been a slave on the Sweetsmoke plantation since birth – in fact, his owner Hoke Howard even chose his name, and he used to be one of Hoke’s favorites. Used to be because Cassius’s attitude in the past five years has changed drastically, ever since he lost his wife and child. When Emoline Justice, a woman for whom Cassius cared much, is brutally murdered, Cassius realizes that he can no longer stand by and seeks her murderer in an attempt for revenge.
I really enjoyed this book. Mr. Fuller put me right on the plantation with Cassius, and I felt about as much a black slave as I suspect any American white girl ever can. I could feel what Cassius was feeling – the injustice galled me, the constant injustice, and while this normally drives me away from books dealing with slavery, in this case it was executed so well that it made the experience of the book feel more important. One of the most marvelous things about historical fiction is that sometimes it can show us history in a way that a non-fiction work generally cannot do. This is what Fuller does with this book and just for that it can be commended highly.
The author also executed some interesting stylistic choices that added to the feel of the book. Only the speech of the slaves is not marked by quotation marks, even when they are talking to each other. This really underscores how the slaves were considered to be below everyone else; this is a fact that everyone knows, wrong as it is, but the book caused me to feel it with subtle touches like this one. Besides that, Fuller’s dialogue is unusually well done and feels like real speech, which is probably thanks to his history as a screenwriter.
Sweetsmoke‘s plot is also very well done; there are plenty of twists and turns in here. The first 50 or so pages are a slower going than the rest, though, as the story doesn’t really start until Cassius finds out about the murder. As a carpenter, Cassius is a bit freer than the other slaves, which allows him to give us more of a feel for the Civil War era South than a field slave would be able to do. His search for Emoline’s murderer takes him over a fair amount of ground and ends up in a way I certainly didn’t expect, but which makes sense in the end. There is even a little bit of romance in this novel, which adds a nice touch as it both endears us to Cassius and highlights yet another way in which the slaves were unfortunate.
I would certainly recommend this book, especially to those who love historical fiction like I do. In the end, it is a fascinating portrait of the American South, largely through the eyes of a slave, that really allows us to feel what it may have been like to live then. Only by reading books like this one will we make sure that such atrocities are not committed again. Pre-order this book on Amazon. You can also view the website for Sweetsmoke and David Fuller.