Book Review by Sylvia D. Between 1835 and the early 1840s some twelve to fourteen thousand Boers (Dutch/Afrikaans for “farmers”) who were descended from settlers who had come from western Europe (mainly from the Netherlands and north-west Germany and Huguenots from France) to settle in Cape Colony, migrated eastward and north-eastward – the Great Trek. It was this mass movement of settlers that eventually saw the establishment of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The voortrekkers, as they were known, were seeking to escape British control and were in search of new land. The family of Stuart Cloete (1897-1976 and pronounced “Clooty”) had settled in the Cape in 1652 and he was able to draw on the writings of his great-grandfather to write a novel about the Great Trek entitled Turning Wheels.
While researching my current work in progress, a historical novel about slavery at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, I came upon this poem published in 1945 in Phylon, a magazine dedicated to race and culture.
My novel is almost ready now (fourth draft) and I was looking for epigraphs to put at the beginning of each chapter.
by Robert Hayden
It was long, long after the burnished riding of those conquering kings, the poems, the sacred images of bronze, the jewel-dark wisdom of that fabulous queen. It was long, long after that they came with guns, disease, in ships with death for figurehead, stained sails and Christ spreadeagled in the cordage. Long, long after… And we had forgotten our sires’ plumed and charioted splendor, our past an ivory image buried under jungle leaves, and our god false to us, our kings betraying us.
I. Jesus, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy: Sails flashing to the wind like weapons, sharks following the moans, the fever and the dying; horror the corposant and compass-rose.
Voyage through death to life upon these shores. “Tenth April Eighteen Hundred: Blacks rebellious. Crew uneasy. Our linguist says their staunchless moaning is a prayer for death, ours and their own. Some try to starve themselves. Lost three this morning leaped with crazy laughter to the waiting sharks; sang as they went under.” Desire, Adventure, Tartar, Ann: Standing to America, bringing home black gold, black ivory, black seed. Deep in the festering hold thy father lies, of his bones New England pews are made; those are altar lights that were his eyes. Jesus Saviour Pilot Me Over Life’s Tempestuous Sea We pray that thou wilt grant, O Lord, safe passage to our vessels bringing heathen souls unto thy comforting. Jesus Saviour “Midnight: I cannot sleep, for I am sick with fear, but writing eases fear a little, since still my eyes can see these words take shape upon the page; and so I write, as one would turn to exorcism. Four days scudding, but now the sea is calm again. Ill luck follows in our wake like sharks (our grinning tutelary gods). Which one of us has killed an albatross? A plague among our blacks-ophthalmia: blind- ness-and we have jettisoned the blind to no avail. It spreads (Christ, help us), spreads. Its claws have scratched sight from the Captain’s eyes, and there is blindness in the fo’c’sle; and we must sail three weeks before we come to port. What port awaits us, Davy Jones’ or home? I’ve heard of slavers drifting and drifting-stricken wanderers, play- things of wind and storm, their crews gone blind, savage jungle hatred crawling up on deck . . .” Thou Who Walked On Galilee We bring from hideous Africa the black race, demon-souled, to thee, to thee. Jesus Saviour Pilot Me “Deponent further sayeth that said brig the Bella J. sailed from the Guinea coast with cargo of five hundred blacks and odd for the barracoons of Florida: “That there was scarcely room ‘tween-decks for half the sweltering cattle stowed spoon-fashion there; that some went made of thirst and tore their flesh and sucked the spurting blood: “That crew and Captain lusted with the comliest of the heathen girls kept naked in the cabins; that there was one they called the Guinea Rose, and they cast lots and fought to lie with her: “That when the Bo’s’n piped all hands, the flames, spreading from starboard, already were beyond control, the negroes screaming in the hold, their chains entangled with the flames: “That said black men could not be reached; that the crew abandoned ship, leaving the shrieking negresses behind: “That two hundred thousand dollars in prime slaves were lost; that six white men did perish drunken with the wenches. “Further Deponent sayeth not….” Pilot Oh Pilot Me Voyage through death to life upon these shores.
II. Borne from that land- O Ancient mother made the whore of greed, of death the glittering concubine; O fiery kingdoms dazzling-dark with sun, thy smouldering riches cursing and consuming thee- Our gods false to us, our kings betraying us for rum and mirrors, muskets and a dream of power. Rio Pongo Gambia Whydah Calabar, Gold Coast and Ivory Coast: wound-vivid points upon the map of man’s cruelty to man. “Aye, lad, and I have seen those factories, have seen the mongos skilled at setting traps of war wherein the feuding blacks, victor and vanquished, were caught as prizes for our barracoons. “Fieldhands for Georgia gentlemen, footmen for the senor. black girls to please a gentleman and comb his lady’s hair. Now who will buy, now who will buy? Come buy, 0. “Have seen the nigger kings whose greed and vanity turned the wild black hides to gold for us. And there was one-King Anthracite we called him- fetish face beneath French parasols “Of brass and orange velvet; impudent mouth whose cups were carved from human skulls: would honor us with drum and feast and conjo and palm-oil-glistening wenches skilled in love. “And for tin crowns that shone with paste, red calico and German-silver trinkets, would have the drums talk war and send his spearmen on the sleeping villages. “And they would burn the papery villages and kill the sick and old and lead the young in coffles to our factories … “Twenty years in that trade, twenty years; and it was like the song says, lad: “Oh, I’d ninety bars of gold, as I sailed and riches manifold as I sailed, as I sailed, and wealth beyond control, as I sailed. “For there was gold a-plenty to be harvested from nigger-flesh, and I’d be trading still but for the fever melting down my bones.” Our gods false to us, our kings betraying us, scattering us like seeds to flower stubbornly in alien ground.
III. Shuttles in the rocking loom of history, the dark ships move, the dark ships move, their bright ironical names like kindness on a murderer’s mouth; plough through thrashing glister toward fata morgana’s lucent, melting shore, weave toward New World littorals that are mirage and myth and actual shore. Voyage through death, voyage whose chartings are unlove. A charnel stench, effluvium of living death spreads outward from the hold, where the living and the dead, the horribly dying, lie interlocked, lie foul with blood and excrement and stink like animals. Deep in the festering hold thy father lies; the corpse of mercy rots with him; rats eat love’s rotting gelid eyes. But, oh, the living look at you with human eyes whose suffering accuses you, whose hatred reaches through the swill of dark to strike you like a leper’s claw. You cannot stare that hatred down, nor chain the fear that stalks the watches and breathes on you its fetid scorching breath; cannot kill the deep immortal human wish, the timeless will. “But for the storm that threw up barriers of wind and wave, senores, the Amistad would have reached the port of Principe in two, three days at most; but for the storm we should have been prepared for what befell. Swift as the tiger’s leap it was, verdad. There was that interval of moonless calm filled only with the water’s and the rigging’s sound-then suddenly a low and savage snarl-it was no human sound, verdad- and they had leapt upon us with machete and marlinspike. It was as though the air itself were striking us. We were no match for them. Our crew, exhausted by the struggle with the storm, went down before the blacks. Selestino our mulatto cook, ran from below with gun and lantern, and I saw, before the cane knife’s blinding shock of pain, Cinquez, this surly black who calls himself a prince, foremost in the ghastly work and shouting orders to the others in his barbaric tongue. I saw him back the poor cook down, and then he turned on me. The decks were slippery when daylight came. It sickens me to think of it. The savages threw overboard the butchered bodies of our men like so much jetsam-bodies of Christian men despatched unshriven by the heathen slaves. Basta. The rest is quickly told,’ senores: How Cinquez spared Don Jose and me to steer the Amistad to Africa, and how we voyaged east by day and west by night, deceiving them, hoping for rescue, prisoners on our own vessel that, like a phantom schooner doomed to portless seas, wandered the Atlantic till at length we drifted to the shores of this your land, America, where we were freed from our unspeakable misery. Now we demand, senores, the extradition of Cinquez and his accomplices to La Havana. And it distresses us to know there are so many here inclined to justify and praise the mutiny of these treacherous blacks. We find it strange and paradoxical that you whose wealth, whose very liberty are rooted in the labor of your slaves- and justly so-should suffer the senor John Quincy Adams to speak so passionately of the right of slaves to kill their masters, and with his lavish rhetoric weave a hero’s garland for Cinquez. Jus suum is the view of the viejo; it is not ours, and we are determined to return to Cuba with our slaves and there see justice done. Cinquez will die, senores, be assured he will .. .” The deep immortal human wish, the timeless will: Cinquez its superb Homeric image, life that transfigures many lives, life that defines our history upon these shores. Borne from that land- our gods false to us, our kings betraying us- like seeds the storm winds carry to flower stubbornly upon these shores.
You can do something for me today. For every author you know. For even the authors you don’t. An act of literary citizenship that takes 7-10 minutes. Sure, you can spend time and/or money to be a literary citizen—hosting events, blogging, editing or reading for a journal—or contribute gently to your community by giving thoughtful feedback in your own writing group. But to actually help authors sell books, for free, right now:
Write a review.
Not “pitch a review to a literary publication,” although that’s great, too. Not “write a 900-word blog post balancing serious critique with just enough praise.” Not “read the book twice for fairness and highlight quotes and eventually put something up in a couple of months.” Just write and post a short review, right away.
Write a review of 3-10 sentences. Maybe quote one line you really liked.
I spent the better part of the day updating my CV. It’s a lot of work! I had to check when certain things were published, etc.
Then I read online about the cover letter, how it’s supposed to be like a marketing tool to help you get that dream job. For someone who struggles to promote herself it has been a nightmare. Either I come across as too prideful or too modest. I can never quite find that middle ground.
However, the good thing about updating my CV is that, at a time when I feel quite down because of Covid, it demonstrated that I have achieved a great deal. I had quite a few poems published in magazines and anthologies.
The cherry on the cake for me is the publication of a seminal work ‘Culture and the Liberation Struggle in South Africa: from colonialism to post-apartheid’. I was a contributing editor and it makes me proud to be part of such an important book.
I’ve finished the second draft of my novel and I’m looking for 5 beta readers to give me feedback before attempting the third rewrite. My project is a historical novel of just over 70 000 words which takes place in the 18th Century during slavery at the Cape of Good Hope.
The Buried Chameleon is a literary work told in third person with multiple viewpoints. It has a historical and a contemporary component. The historical story is about the 11-year-old slave, AMBERIKE from Abyssinia. The Dutch school teacher EGBERT falls in love with her; the COOK, an exile from Indonesia, tries to protect her. KLAAS, a soldier from Ambon Island, and the overseer or mandoor, ARIE de Boer de Grood are also interested in Amberike. With so many suitors it is difficult to find the perpetrator when she becomes pregnant after a rape.
The narrative is set in 1713 during the smallpox epidemic. Amberike contracts it, and loses the baby. This changes her from a submissive girl to a woman. The Cook writes a shadow play, which is an ancient Javanese form of cultural expression, about Amberike’s rape. The play encapsulates dominant themes in the novel and, when it is rediscovered in post-apartheid South Africa by the contemporary protagonist, KATY, it is also the link between the past and the present.
The contemporary plot centers on Katy. She is independent, strong-willed, and in a troubled relationship with her husband; NORMAN, who has been retrenched. Their ten-year-old daughter, AMY, is diagnosed with a rare genetic disease. Katy explores her past and discovers that Amberike may be her ancestor.
NB. Due to misuse the contact form has been removed.
Re-posting some previous posts that followers have told me they found most helpful. Today’s post was written after I had to re-edit, proofread and generally sort out a manuscript that had been published by a vanity press purporting to be a legitimate small press, who had charged the client in question thousands of pounds. In my subsequent ‘nosing about’, I discovered some authors that had been badly let done by small presses. That said, I do appreciate that there are lots of fabulous small presses out there that work incredibly hard for their authors.
I recently wrote a bit of a rant about the quality control of some small presses whose books I had read.
If you are thinking of signing with a small publisher, then do bear a few things in mind.
Do your homework – start off by Googling the publisher. You might find threads on writing sites…
My supervisor told me I have too many characters in my WIP and I came across this post. I like the idea of combining some of my characters. Thus far I have only looked at deleting them and somehow it didn’t work.
This is another interesting question from my postbag:
I’m writing an adventure story that takes place over a journey, and we meet many characters. I’ve been told my novel has too many, but when I look at comparison titles, big casts are de rigeur. Kidnapped has 15 named characters, though some are very minor. Treasure Island has six main characters and 15 or more minor named characters. The Silver Sword has six main characters and the same number of minor. The Hobbit has even more. How many should I have?
It’s true that journey stories tend to have large casts. In that respect they’re like the family saga, which begins with a core of characters and gathers and loses key players along the way. The constant flux of personnel is one of the pleasures of the genre. Who’s going to join? Who might leave – or even, die?
‘Writing the Personal Essay’ was the first formal writing class I’d taken since college. It was also the first nonfiction writing I’d done outside my diary. At the end of the first session, in an effort to provide inspiration for future essays, the instructor gave us ten minutes to write about anything we wanted. No prompt, just a free-write to see what developed.
Without much thought, I jotted down broad strokes of a personal story. It wasn’t anything that had been burning inside me to tell, it just appeared, and I let it out. When the timer went off, he asked who wanted to share. Many hands shot up, including mine. I had shared my fiction writing in workshops over the years and I liked reading my work aloud. I was excited to introduce myself in this way to my fellow writers. The instructor signaled for me…