'I will just come out and say it, Cassius.' Hoke hesitated, and Cassius saw a tremor in his hand. Apparently the news had been a blow to Hoke as well. 'She is dead Cassius, that is all there is to it, Emoline Justice is dead, and that is that.' The year is 1862, and the Civil War is in full flame. Cassius Howard, a slave and carpenter on a tobacco plantation, risks everything - extreme punishment, sale to a cotton plantation, even his life - to learn the truth concerning the murder of a freed black woman, a woman who secretly taught him to read and once saved his life. No one gives a damn about her small, rude, unimportant death in the midst of a brutal and hellish war. No one but Cassius, who braves unimaginable dangers to escape the plantation and avenge her death. With subtlety and beauty set against an epic backdrop, Sweetsmoke captures eloquently the daily indignities and harrowing losses suffered by slaves, the turmoil of a country waging countless wars within itself, and the lives of those people fighting for identity, for salvation, and for freedom.
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(233mm x 152mm x 20mm)
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Country of Publication:
US Kirkus Review »
A debut novel of the Civil War, set on the Virginia tobacco plantation of Sweetsmoke during 1862.The narrative focuses on Cassius, "of lean and hungry look," and indeed named after the character in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Looked after by his master, Hoke Howard, Cassius is smart, shrewd and resentful. Besides Hoke, the dominant influence in his life has been Emoline Justice, an old black woman who during a traumatic time in Cassius's life had taught him to read and write - and who at the beginning of the novel has been brutally murdered. One conceivable motive is the fact that in addition to her role as a fortuneteller and an herbalist, Emoline has been serving as a Federal spy, and it's not clear who knows this secret part of her identity. While giving off the "sweetsmoke" flavor of life on a plantation, the novel also shares something with the whodunits of detective fiction, for Cassius is determined to find her murderer. One prime suspect is Solomon Whitacre, a weasly quartermaster in the Confederate Army. Another is Hoke, for his kindly exterior conceals a ruthless and pitiless interior. While Cassius is offered numerous opportunities to escape, his strong desire to avenge Emoline's death keeps him close to home. Fuller gives us different perspectives on slavery and on the war - we learn about life on the plantation through the slaves themselves, through the privileged life of the owning families and through soldiers who fight not out of loyalty to the Confederacy but to escape dull marriages and the dreariness of domestic life. We also learn of inside maneuvering, of how slaves are pitted against each other to contend for relationships of relative power and prestige. Cassius is eventually caught up in the barbarity of Sharpsburg and finds a creative way to get his freedom - and to solve the mystery of Emoline's murder.While not always gripping, this novel from veteran screenwriter Fuller is well worth reading because of Cassius's sinuous and guileful complexity. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - David Fuller
David Fuller has been a screenwriter for 25 years, and he spent eight years researching this novel, research that led to the discovery that one of his own ancestors fought in the Civil War and was a slave owner.