Monday, February 05, 2007

All Souls' Rising, pt. 3

Madison Smart Bell
pgs. 120-261

I had no business complaining about the violence in All Souls' Rising at page 119, especially when I had no idea just how much worse it could get. Believe me, it does get a lot worse. How much worse, you ask? How about this: "He stooped, smiling, and placed the screw gently against the white man's eyeball and with a slow precision began to turn it in." Or this: "Blood gushed over the edges of the skull and matted hair where it hung beneath and spilled over to darken the gold braid on the cuffs of Jeannot's coat." Or even this: "The epidermis had been peeled away strategically to reveal the workings of the musculature on the hands and arms and thighs; even the cheeks were laid bare, and the lips had been cut away (so that the man must scream without the proper mouth to do it with)." And here I was complaining about a little crucifixion. What was I thinking?

Obviously, slavery is an atrocious institution. I was prepared with this knowledge when I started reading the book. And no matter how much I complained about the violence before, it wasn't anything that I hadn't expected. What I wasn't prepared for was the reminder that violent revolution can be just as unpretty. All of the quotes provided above are taken from violence that blacks and mulattos visit upon their former white masters. In fact, the last excerpt of a man being skinned (and eventually gutted) alive is performed by a mulatto on his white father.

I imagine that having such atrocities visited upon yourself and others whom you love could desensitize a person enough to perform the same torture methods upon those responsible. But just because it's understandable doesn't make it any less horrendous. There are no heroes in a story such as this, at least there hasn't been thus far. In these beginning days of the revolution, the revolutionizers seem more concerned with revenge than they are with freedom. Again, it's not incomprehensible, but it's difficult to find a piece of humanity within this 'forest of revenge' to empathize with.

There are a few characters - Toussaint and Dr. Hebert, for instance - who seem to have maintained their humanity in the midst of the bloodlust and the violent retaliation on both sides. But their reason, their fear, and their understanding for the other side is so overwhelmingly outnumbered by those who don't, can't, or won't share their empathy that, half-way through the first book of a trilogy, it all already seems so very hopeless. Can there be any winners in a world like this?

Of course, it's a moot question since I know how this story really ends. Yet, Bell's writing is no less poetic for all of its vivid and descriptive violence. I will most likely read this trilogy to its end. Yes, this isn't the type of novel I generally read in my free time, but regardless of how often I cringe and my eyes water at mans' inhumanity against man, I'm still pleased to be reading out of my box.