Alex Wheatle. London: Andersen Press, pb, 978 1 83913 112 7, 2021, £7.99, 186 pp.
Fiction, 12+ years
This is Alex Wheatle’s first historical novel and will be followed by a second novel about Jamaican history, Kemosha of the Caribbean, to be published in February 2022.
Wheatle is a great storyteller and it is really satisfying to see the lives of enslaved people on a plantation in 18th-century Jamaica brought to life as vividly as the characters in his South London novel series. It is based on the true story of Tacky, who led an uprising in 1760, something that Wheatle knows a great deal about. But to tell the story he has created an imaginary cast of characters surrounding Tacky.
Moa, the youngest of these ‘cane warriors’, the slaves employed in a sugar cane plantation, is very well imagined with real emotions and real anguish, a character easy to engage with. The tremendous hardship and cruelty of plantation life are very painful to read but important to know. Tacky and his warriors are comrades in arms, influenced by ideas from their Ghanaian heritage and determined to fight to the end. The fighting is brutal and Wheatle does not duck the violence, counterbalancing it with the effect it has on the slave perpetrators.
This is an important part of British colonial history which has been very overlooked. Wheatle has written a novel which deserves a wide readership and can be used to raise really important issues.
Review by Pam Dix