Every other week or so, I will be presenting one of my favorite books. It may be new, it may be old, it may be YA, or mystery, or literary fiction, the possibilities are endless. The one unifying quality? It will be a book that in one way or another changed my life. These blog entries will not be reviews so much as short subjective summaries about why I loved the book and why you should read it.
The inaugural book: I’m honored to present Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth.
What’s it about?
Sacred Hunger follows the history of an 18th century slave-trading ship from construction to the conveyance and sale of its human cargo. It is a story of choices, ends above means, profit at any cost—just one of many sacred hungers explored—and what these costs mean in both monetary and human terms.
Why read it?
The writing is lush, the subject important and well-researched, the story is epic and thrilling. The juxtaposition of the two main characters, one who profits from slaving and the other subjugated by it, is brilliant. The close-up view of the machinations of the slave trade and life aboard a slaver are riveting. The horrors of disease, the mercenary bartering between ship captains and African kings, the use and abuse of sailors and the human cargo aboard the ship is both awful and fascinating to read about.
Sacred Hunger is sensitive to it’s time period. It’s easy for us to moralize today and see the the true evil of the slave trade, but two-hundred years ago, perceptions were different. Unsworth does a brilliant job of giving us a glimpse of this world not through the eyes of a 21st century observer, but through the eyes of someone who lived through it. It is precisely because Unsworth doesn’t impose morality on his characters that this is such an important work. The book helps us to understand a ‘why’ that most of us can’t comprehend today. Is it painful to read? Absolutely, because we are put in touch with, and forced to empathize with, the basest of human instincts. But this book will teach you, make you think, and astound you with the beauty of its language. Read it!