John Scalzi’s Favourite Books About Epidemics

I’m sure by now everyone is aware of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  Despite the incredible and due fear surrounding the Ebola virus it may be worth noting that while Ebola has killed a record amount of people, during the same time frame Malaria and TB have claimed hundreds of thousands more lives.

“Since the Ebola outbreak began in February, around 300,000 people have died from malaria, while tuberculosis has likely claimed over 600,000 lives. Ebola might have our attention, but it’s not even close to being the biggest problem in Africa right now.” (article)

That said, the Ebola outbreak has had me thinking about epidemics and how they truly are one of our greatest threats.  There are a number of great books that take on this terrifying subject and the first that comes to my mind is Justin Cronin’s The Passage Trilogy.  I love these books and am eagerly awaiting the final book.  John Scalzi’s new book Lock In is about a virus that results in 1% of the world’s population being left ‘locked in’.  Here is the blurb from GoodReads:Lock In

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselvs “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. One per cent doesn’t seem like a lot. But in the United States, that’s 1.7 million people “locked in”…including the President’s wife and daughter. Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse….

I can’t wait to get my hands on this book!  So, with the release of Lock In, Scalzi has picked his favourite epidemic books which he has shared in a GoodReads’ Good Minds Suggest article.  Without further ado, here are Scalzi’s 5 epidemic picks:


The Stand by Stephen King

The Stand

This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.  And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides — or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail — and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.  (GoodReads)


Emergence by David R Palmer


Candidia Maria Smith-Foster, an eleven-year-old girl, is unaware that she’s a Homo post hominem, mankind’s next evolutionary step. With international relations rapidly deteriorating, Candy’s father, publicly a small-town pathologist but secretly a government biowarfare expert, is called to Washington. Candy remains at home.  The following day a worldwide attack, featuring a bionuclear plague, wipes out virtually all of humanity (i.e., Homo sapiens). With her pet bird Terry, she survives the attack in the shelter beneath their house. Emerging three months later, she learns of her genetic heritage and sets off to search for others of her kind.  (GoodReads)


Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was by Barry Hughart

Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1)

When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together, they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure. The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures—and strange coincidences, which were really not coincidences at all. And it involved them in an ancient crime that still perturbed the serenity of Heaven. Simply and charmingly told, this is a wry tale, a sly tale, and a story of wisdom delightfully askew. Once read, its marvels and beauty will not easily fade from the mind.  (GoodReads)


Grass by Sheri S Tepper

Grass (Arbai, #1)

Generations ago, humans fled to the cosmic anomaly known as Grass. But before humanity arrived, another species had already claimed Grass for its own. It too had developed a culture…Now a deadly plague is spreading across the stars, leaving no planet untouched, save for Grass. But the secret of the planet’s immunity hides a truth so shattering it could mean the end of life itself.  (GoodReads)


World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. “World War Z” is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.  Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War. (GoodReads)

2014 Hugo Best Novel Award Winner



This year the Hugo Award for Best Novel went to:


Ancillary Justice by Ann LeckieAncillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)


On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.  Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.  Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance. (GoodReads)

Review: July’s People by Nadine Gordimer

July’s People was published in 1981 before the end of Apartheid in South Africa and tells the story of a fictional civil war as South Africa’s cities become battlegrounds.  Here is the blurb July's Peoplefrom GoodReads:

For years, it had been what is called a “deteriorating situation.” Now all over South Africa the cities are battlegrounds. The members of the Smales family—liberal whites—are rescued from the terror by their servant, July, who leads them to refuge in his village. What happens to the Smaleses and to July—the shifts in character and relationships—gives us an unforgettable look into the terrifying, tacit understandings and misunderstandings between blacks and whites.

Gordimer is a Nobel Prize for Literature laureate and I was expecting a lot from this book.  I was let down.   It is clear Gordimer is a fantastic writer.  The style she chose for this book, however, didn’t work for me.  I can’t put my finger on what exactly didn’t feel right.  The dialogue often disrupted the flow for me as it sometimes wasn’t immediately clear who was talking – there were descriptive paragraphs punctuated with bits of dialogue that indicated no particular speaker.  The Smales were people I could not connect with.   And though this book is said to deal with the misunderstandings between white and black people, which I thought was portrayed mostly through the relationship between Maureen and July, I found it just didn’t go there.  I was looking for so much more but nothing really happened to anyone to provoke something meaningful.  I couldn’t clearly see in Gordimer’s telling of this story what she intended for us to take away from it because it ended terribly, in my opinion, with no real resolution.  The only reason I did not quit reading this short book is for two reasons; she really is a good writer, and I wanted to know how it ended.  Despite my disappointment I will still be giving her other books a read in the hopes of finding something I like because, as I’ve said, Gordimer has a way with words, she does draw your attention to certain truths but in this case it just wasn’t enough to tie everything together well enough for me in this book.  People feel differently about this novel so I would say if you’re dying to read it – go ahead.  It’s short so you won’t need much time before you know if it’s for you or not.  Sadly, this one’s not for me.

south africa

1 star

Review: Foreign Gods Inc by Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods, Inc is a very well written novel that was a breath of fresh air.

Foreign Gods, Inc.Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

Foreign Gods, Inc., tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery. Ike’s plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world. Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support. When he turns to gambling, his mounting losses compound his woes.  And so he travels back to Nigeria to steal the statue, where he has to deal with old friends, family, and a mounting conflict between those in the village who worship the deity, and those who practice Christianity. A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the “exotic,” including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods is a brilliant work of fiction that illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other.

I was drawn to this novel and was not disappointed.  Ndibe is a talented writer who describes settings and emotions vividly.  And really that is what this story was to me.  The descriptions of a foreign man in a place far different from his home.  The emotions he goes through fighting to fit in and be accepted.  The feel of his home and the struggle of his family.  I found Ike, the main character, easy to follow and easy to like.  I felt his desperation as he ran out of money and tried to come up with ways to rectify his situation.  The pressure of being an immigrant with a less fortunate family left behind.  I particularly enjoyed the parts where Ike is back in Nigeria; the stories about the God Ngene, the descriptions of his home and his memories, and the battle between the followers of Ngene and those of Christianity.  I was struck by Ike’s misfortune as a highly educated man being denied his chance for success purely based on an accent and I was saddened by his eventual lot.  This isn’t a happy ending story.  To me it was an honest look into the experience of so many people who move between completely different worlds and who must remain honourable to both but accepted in neither to some extent.  I enjoyed reading this book and if the blurb speaks to you, I’m sure Ndibe’s writing will not let you down.

nigeria 1

4 stars

Review: The Divide by Nicholas Evans

I finally got round to reading Nicholas Evans’ book The Divide.  It came out a while ago and I’ve been meaning to read it for ages as he is one of my favourite authors.  The books I most enjoyed of his were The Smoke Jumper and The Horse Whisperer.  I can’t say I didn’t enjoy The Loop because it was great and I hadn’t read a story like that before so I would recommend all of his books.  His great strength as a writer is being able to tell stories about the human heart in the face of difficult situations.  He does so with such ease and completely without frills. The Divide His writing flows easily and is always right on the mark.  He does dialogue like no other – I would say the most authentic dialogue I’ve ever read in books that take on these issues.  He also seems to be able to take you to the heart of a relationship without overwriting it.  He always gets me thinking about people and why they do what they do and shows me the truths of others’ lives different from my own.  The Divide covers a number of different relationships although what struck me in this novel was how Ben and Sarah’s marriage broke down so suddenly…but don’t think this book is about marriage.

THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE HORSE WHISPERER… returns with an epic new novel of the human heart.

On a Montana morning, two skiers find the body of a woman embedded in the ice of a mountain creek. She’s identified as Abbie Cooper, a brilliant college student who was on the run from charges of murder. But what was the chain of events that led this golden child astray? The answers are in the secrets of an American family fractured by lies and reunited in a tragedy.  (GoodReads)

I hate putting spoilers in my reviews because the reason I write these reviews is just to give a bit of info to those who may be interested in reading the book themselves.   So no spoilers here.  However, another relationship that really struck me was the relationship between Abbie Cooper and her ‘environmental terrorist’ boyfriend.  The Divide is set in Montana mostly and this follows on from Evans’ other novels which are set in the same area of the US.  It has that Evans Montana feel to it but is also different as it follows the lives of the family of a girl who made a decision that changed everybody’s future forever.  It is part crime story, part love story.  It deals with carrying on after your relationship fails and moving on after losing a loved one as well as exploring the different kinds of love in life against a backdrop of bad choices.  It’s a great book to read to escape a bit.  I recommend The Divide along with all his other books.  Love them all!  If you’ve read this or another of his books I’d love to hear what someone else thinks of them.


3 stars

2014 Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction

I completely missed the announcement of the winner of the 2014 Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction on June 4th…as you may have noticed my blog has had to take a backseat recently but without further ado let me share with you what I believe was an unexpected winner given the other entries on the shortlist.  And the winner is:


A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride


What the judges said:

Helen Fraser, chair of judges, says of McBride’s startling debut: “An amazing and ambitious first novel that impressed the judges with its inventiveness and energy.  This is an extraordinary new voice – this novel will move and astonish the reader.” (read more)

Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist, to read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.  Touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma, McBride writes with singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is moving, funny – and alarming. It is a book you will never forget.  Eimear McBride was born in Liverpool but moved to Ireland when she was three. She grew up in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo and Castlebar, Co. Mayo, before moving to London aged 17 to study at The Drama Centre. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is her first novel. (read more on GoodReads)

Oprah’s Top 10 Books

I may not have the same reading preferences as Oprah all the time but I know that she often picks really great books for her readers.  This is a list I particularly like.  Oprah was asked to pick the top 10 books that have mattered to her during her magazine’s first decade (2000-2010) and this is what she chose…


A NEW EARTH By Eckhart Tolle

“There’s a reason Oprah picked this for her Book Club in 2008 – and that she gave audience members Post-It pens along with their copies. So much wisdom, so little time! A real-life guide to living your best life.”

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose

In “A New Earth,” Tolle expands on these powerful ideas to show how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world. Tolle describes how our attachment to the ego creates the dysfunction that leads to anger, jealousy, and unhappiness, and shows readers how to awaken to a new state of consciousness and follow the path to a truly fulfilling existence. “The Power of Now” was a question-and-answer handbook. “A New Earth” has been written as a traditional narrative, offering anecdotes and philosophies in a way that is accessible to all. Illuminating, enlightening, and uplifting, “A New Earth” is a profoundly spiritual manifesto for a better way of life?and for building a better world. (GoodReads)



NIGHT By Elie Wiesel

“A memoir of a childhood suffered in concentration camps during the Holocaust. It’s horrific but uplifting. “I gain courage from his courage,” says Oprah.”

Night (The Night Trilogy, #1)

Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver. (GoodReads)




“Advice from the internationally known spiritual teacher.”

Discover the Power Within You

One of the greatest challenges facing mankind today is the need to find a faith that will serve modern man and his problems. The lack of such a faith could explain why so many people are becoming drop-outs from Christianity. Eric Butterworth’s book is a result of the author’s personal search for a practical way-of-life Christianity. The greatest discovery of all time, he says in Discover The Power Within You, was that made by Jesus of the divine dimension in every human being. Christianity, says the author, has emphasized the divinity of Jesus, but Jesus Himself taught the divinity of man. His most vital mission on earth was to help man discover this. The entire Gospel message deals with techniques for unfolding this divine potential, and Eric Butterworth’s book, in its close relationship to the teachings of Jesus, is thus a valuable self-help book for modern men and women who are seeking a truly full way of life. Like Emmett Fox, the author asks, “What did Jesus really teach?”, and the direct and simple answers he presents should bring great comfort to many who have forgotten even to ask the question. This is a book in which the author tells us what Jesus Himself taught about such vital subjects as: How to succeed; How to pray; How to find confidence; How to overcome personal problems; How to find healing. (GoodReads)



EAST OF EDEN By John Steinbeck

“This classic is about good and evil as played out in a late-19th-century California ranch family. If you didn’t read it in high school, read it now. If you did, reread it.”

East of Eden

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. (GoodReads)




“About the challenges of building cathedrals in 12th-century England, this novel couldn’t be more different in setting, time and plot from the author’s breakthrough success, Eye of the Needle. Oprah declares it simply “great.””

The Pillars of the Earth  (The Pillars of the Earth, #1)

The spellbinding epic set in twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the lives entwined in the building of the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known—and a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother. (GoodReads)



THE KNOWN WORLD By Edward P. Jones

“When this book was published in 2003, it shocked everybody with its depiction of slave-owning blacks before the Civil War. A daring, unusual examination of race.”

The Known World

The Known World tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can’t uphold the estate’s order, and chaos ensues. Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all its moral complexities. (GoodReads)



THE BLUEST EYE By Toni Morrison

“How to choose among the great Morrison’s novels? Start with this one about a girl who thinks she has to have blue eyes to be beautiful. Oprah considers it one of the best in a crowded Morrison field.”

The Bluest Eye

THE BLUEST EYE chronicles the tragic, torn lives of a poor black family in 1940s Ohio: Pauline, Cholly, Sam and Pecola. Pecola, unlovely and unloved, prays each night for blue eyes like those of her privileged blond white schoolfellows. She becomes the focus of the mingled love and hatred engendered by her family’s frailty and the world’s cruelty as the novel moves toward a savage but poignant resolution. (GoodReads)




“A kind of Hamlet on the prairie, this is the wrenching story of a mute boy and his dog. Oprah compares it to East of Eden and To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose remarkable gift for companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar’s lifelong friend and ally. Edgar seems poised to carry on his family’s traditions, but when catastrophe strikes, he finds his once-peaceful home engulfed in turmoil.  Forced to flee into the vast wilderness lying beyond the Sawtelle farm, Edgar comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who accompany him, until the day he is forced to choose between leaving forever or returning home to confront the mysteries he has left unsolved.  Filled with breathtaking scenes—the elemental north woods, the sweep of seasons, an iconic American barn, a fateful vision rendered in the falling rain—The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a meditation on the limits of language and what lies beyond, a brilliantly inventive retelling of an ancient story, and an epic tale of devotion, betrayal, and courage in the American heartland. (GoodReads)



A FINE BALANCE By Rohinton Mistry

“A Dickensian novel about India during the Emergency. Like the aftermath of September 11, it teaches us about cultures we haven’t understood. “It takes us out of our own little shell and exposes us to a whole other world out there,” Oprah says.”

A Fine Balance

With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India. The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future. As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state. (GoodReads)



THE POISONWOOD BIBLE By Barbara Kingsolver

“This novel is about a family embroiled in the political turmoil of postcolonial Africa. It established Kingsolver as one of our wisest observers of history, politics and human nature.”

The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa. (GoodReads)

2014 Sunday Times Fiction Prize Winner

The winner of the 2014 Sunday Times Prize for Fiction is:

The Spiral House by Claire Robertson


Sunday Times books editor Ben Williams said, “The Spiral House emerged as the unanimous winner in the tightly contested Fiction category. The judges called it an astonishingly adept and richly imagined novel, a layered, subtle story that resonates with important ideas about history. We applaud the sensuous quality of the writing and were amazed by its remarkable language.” (read more)

Katrijn van der Caab, freed slave and wigmaker’s apprentice, travels with her eccentric employer from Cape Town to Vogelzang, a remote farm where a hairless girl needs their services. The year is 1794, it is the age of enlightenment, and on Vogelzang the master is conducting strange experiments in human breeding and classification. It is also here that Trijn falls in love.  Two hundred years later and a thousand miles away, Sister Vergilius, a nun at a mission hospital, wants to free herself from an austere order. It is 1961 and her life intertwines with that of a gentleman farmer – an Englishman and suspected Communist – who collects and studies insects and lives a solitary life. While a group of Americans arrive in a cavalcade of caravans and a new republic is about to be born, desire is unfurling slowly. (read more on GoodReads)

10 Books That Make You Feel Dumb

BookRiot conducted a survey with 463 of their readers to find out which books have left readers feeling dumb.  Their list includes 17 of the top novels to have dumbfounded readers but here I will share with you the top 10.  I’m particularly interested in the list entries as a number of them are on my TBR list so I’d love to hear if you all agree with BookRiot readers.  Some of these books have also been featured on my FBF posts as part of the All Time 100 list so I know some of you have already read some of these books.  So guys, without further ado here is the top 10 books that leave you feeling dumb…let me know what you think.

books that make you feel dumb

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce (71 votes)
  2. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (43)
  3. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (22)
  4. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (18)
  5. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (17)
  6. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (15)
  7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (15)
  8. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (14)
  9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (14)
  10. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (14)


To see the rest of the list (which is surprising so go check it out) head over to BookRiot

FBF: All TIME 100 Novels – The Confessions of Nat Turner

All TIME 100 Best Novels

#22 The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron


After a 2 week hiatus I’m back with the FBF!

The Confessions of Nat Turner was published in 1967 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  The novel is viewed as having cemented Styron’s reputation as a highly acclaimed writer.  Confessions is loosely based on the confession document of real historical figure, Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831 which resulted in The Confessions of Nat Turner55 white deaths.  Whites responded to the rebellion with 200 Black deaths.  This novel is written with Turner as the first person narrator who makes his ‘confessions’ while in jail awaiting execution to a white lawyer, Thomas Gray.  Just how accurate the novel is in terms of Turner’s character and the contents of the document is debated.

“The novel is based on an extant document, the “confession” of Turner to the white lawyer Thomas Gray. In the historical confessions, Turner claims to have been divinely inspired, charged with a mission from God to lead a slave uprising and destroy the white race.  Styron’s ambitious novel attempts to imagine the character of Nat Turner; it does not purport to describe accurately or authoritatively the events as they occurred. Some historians consider Gray’s account of Turner’s “confessions” to be told with prejudice, and recently one writer has alleged that Gray’s account is itself a fabrication.[3Styron takes liberties with the historical Nat Turner, whose life is otherwise undocumented. The “Confessions” is largely sympathetic to Turner, if not to his thoughts.” (wikipedia)

Despite initial acclaim and acceptance, having won the Pulitzer, receiving great reviews, and appearing on the best sellers list, the novel was condemned by some of the African American audience though not by all.  This also in spite of Styron’s good friend James Baldwin’s praise of the novel.

“But in the broader African-American intellectual world, the novel was widely condemned. “Ten Black Writers Respond” has to be read in light of this history: as a polemic and corrective that introduced a spectrum of opinion mostly ignored in the mainstream press. “For all its prose power and somber earnestness,” Loyle Hairston wrote, “Styron’s novel utterly fails the simple test of honesty.” “This is meditation mired in misinterpretation,” Charles V. Hamilton wrote, “and this is history many . . . black people reject.” John Oliver Killens: “In terms of getting into the slave’s psyche and his idiom, it is a monumental failure.”(Styron’s Choice by Jess Row)

Some found the book to be worthy of the acclaim it received while others didn’t.  Bill Clinton is said to have cited this as one of his favourite books.  It does seem an interesting book and I think it was quite a task to take on to reinterpret those particular historical events.  Without having read this novel I will say that the books that deal with important issues like race and slavery are almost always met with a huge range of feelings.  Good or bad, I’m all for anything that provokes dialogue.  If you’ve read this novel I’d love to hear what you thought about it.

Here is the link to the 1968 NYT review of the novel; The Nat Turner Case by Eugene D Genovese


All TIME 100 Novels – The Confessions of Nat Turner  




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