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All Souls' Rising by Madison Smartt Bell
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All Souls' Rising (original 1995; edition 2004)

by Madison Smartt Bell

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376828,713 (3.91)15
Member:SeriousGrace
Title:All Souls' Rising
Authors:Madison Smartt Bell
Info:Vintage (2004), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:Haiti, fiction, Madison Smartt Bell, aic, historical, revolution, slavery, first person, maps, violence, political, dictionary, bible, rape, murder, racism, death, creole, geography, challenge, MBL, indexed, Latin America, accomplished

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All Souls' Rising by Madison Smartt Bell (1995)

Recently added byprivate library, JasonRiedy, paradoxosalpha, skentmurray, Noumena_Press

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English (7)  Italian (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Anyone who reads my blog (plug), will know - from looking at the Goodreads 'Currently Reading' widget there, that it's taken a long time to struggle through this one. A very long time. A very, very long time. You get the picture.

I fully accept it could be me that found this to be a long-winded way of saying very little. I don't know. It's either a polished turd, or a searing condemnation of…something or other. To be honest, I'm too bored to worry about worrying about what on earth he was trying to do with this one.

It's about the only successful slave rebellion ever. Which took place in Haiti (the French colony of Saint-Dominge, as it was) in 1791 - 1804. This book, I think, is set at the start, in 1791. Basically, we follow the progress of a French Doctor, through the French, the Haitian side of the island, before during and after the Slaves' uprising.

It's written, I think, in a style he feels is appropriate for the era (I'm guessing it's a man. You never know with a name like Madison). So a kind of Jane Austin-style, if she was writing about people being skinned alive. Well, I'm sorry, but some of the descriptions of what went on, are unnecessarily gruesome. Absolutely unnecessarily graphic and downright disturbingly horrible. I've yet to find out if these sorts of things actually went on and the descriptions are based on fact or not. And I'm not going to. But, they did absolutely nothing to advance the cause of the novel. It descended in parts, into the worst sort of gratuitous slasher, cheap horror-movie blood bath. Horror for horror's sake with an attempt to dress it up in the tattered trappings of a serious work. Yes, I can understand that the slaves were highly likely to exact their revenge on their ex-masters and you could hardly blame them for doing what they did. But stretching it out, time and time again, page after page is just badly done. And then, if this stuff isn't based on actual incidents, on hard documented fact, and he's making all this up - then you're one very sick man, Mr Bell. Or Ms Bell.

I came very, very close to knocking it on the head. Many, many times.

I know it's always easier to be negative that positive, but I really am struggling to find anything positive to say about this one. Oh yeah, I got it free. Phew!

That's it. If you're in the market for this sort of thing, you're probably going to appreciate it a lot more than I did. To be honest, I found the historical time-line at the back more interesting and readable than what preceded it. Probably, the Wikipedia page on the up-rising would read better. ( )
  Speesh | Mar 29, 2014 |
One of the best historical novels I’ve ever read. It’s about the Haitian Revolution—this is the first volume. There are multiple points of view among the white and black people of Haiti. A French doctor comes to Haiti to visit a sister who’s married a Haitian planter and about whom he’s concerned. Dr. Hébert, who becomes involved with a mulatto woman and has a child with her, who’s captured by the rebels and learns about medicinal herbs from Toussaint L’Overature, is the “touchstone” character, the one whose sensibilities are most like those of today’s readers. It was a brilliant decision on Bell’s part to have a white man who was not a Haitian colonial (with economic interests in plantations and slave labor) as an observer/participant, one who is of the same class as the planters (without their interests) but is able to accept human beings on their own merits. I understand he continues through the next two volumes of the trilogy. There is also third person narration that focuses on different characters, increasing Toussaint who was already old by Haitian slave standards, a Christian, and from a well-run plantation where slaves were not grossly mistreated. There’s some first person narrative by an African named Riau who remembers his homeland (Toussaint was born into slavery in Haiti) and who moves between Toussaint’s group and some more militant and violent groups. The first person narrative is Bell’s attempt, largely successful, to “get inside the head” of the rebels, in the form of an individual who’s intelligent enough to have some insight into the choices the rebels have. Bell provides ample historical material for the reader to understand the context of the only successful black revolution. It takes place during the unsettled period following the French Revolution. There exist in Haiti at the time not only the same groups of whites there were in the US during slavery (the upper class, who owned land and for whom the institution of slavery is critical and the middle class whites who were traders and shopkeepers and had other jobs and professions and whose wealth did not derive from the land), but political groups as well, those conservatives who supported the king (largely the plantation-owning class) as well as various revolutionary supporters. So to some extent French politics played out in Haiti. There was one governing official who deported those Frenchmen who disagreed with him back to France as traitors, and in some cases to the guillotine. There were also black rebels who were loyal to the king.There’s a year-by-year summary of historical events in an appendix—needed since most readers in English are not very familiar with Haitian history. There’s also an excellent glossary that allows Bell to use French and Creole words in the text because all of them are explained in the glossary. That allows him to initiate the reader into the Voodoo religion and Haitian traditions among whites, Creoles, mulattoes and blacks) as it touches on the events in the novel. It’s extraordinary how successful he is leading readers to understand the multiple points of view. Neither side is monolithic in its interests and values and both the rebels and the white defenders are complicated and changing coalitions of individuals and groups with various motivations. Bell’s narrative also moves back and forth in time, with the novel actually beginning as Toussaint is moved to a secure prison in France in 1802. The events, though, of this first volume mainly take place between 1791 and 1793.I already have the second volume… ( )
  fourbears | Apr 24, 2010 |
Very believable, but somehow, when I was done, it didn't seem like much really happened in the book. ( )
  KromesTomes | Jun 14, 2007 |
All Souls' Rising is a fine historical novel set in the slave rebellion in Haiti in the 1790s. It includes real historical figures, such as Toussaint-Louverture (subject of a separate biography by Bell) who became the first black general to command an army until he finally surrendered to the French in 1802. In addition to the historical figures, Bell draws a rich cast of characters including slaves, slave leaders, white slave owners (of varying degrees of cruelty), the upper class whites, the poor whites of the towns, and the mulattos. It is a rich and varied canvas that draws inspiration from a seething and poisonous cauldron of racial and social tension and hatred. It is never so easy as just the whites versus the blacks because the whites themselves are riven into factions and shifting coalitions based on wealth and power, exacerbated by the divided loyalties engendered by the French revolution. Lest anyone think the Germans invented detailed racial classifications, it is interesting to note that in Haiti, under the French, the mulattos (persons of mixed African and European blood whether slave or free) were defined by 64 (!!) possible admixtures with a specific name and social standing assigned to each. This is a story of blood lust unleashed by the slave rebellion with almost unimaginable energies put into devising ways to make people die as slowly and as painfully as possible....often, however, the slaves were simply applying lessons they had learned at the hands of their masters. The novel traces the events of the rebellion through the eyes and actions of a few principal characters and it succeeds brilliantly in re-creating the atmosphere of the time, a time that seems almost unbelievable for its intolerance and cruelty. However, the book is not all cruelty and death, betrayal and misery....there is also love, devotion, empathy and sacrifice for others. In fact, pretty well the whole panoply of human emotions and relations. A very good read.
1 vote John | Mar 11, 2007 |
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Book description
Sur fond de plantations incendiées et de tumulte révolutionnaire , le légendaire Toussaint-Louverture esclave africain de la deuxième génération , tout autant résolu à résister aux ecxès de la masse qu'à mettre fin à la domination française en Haiti , se prepare à devenir le héros d'une rebellion inconcevable de la violence
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679439897, Paperback)

In his breathtaking and powerful novel that garnered nominations for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, Madison Smartt Bell leaves the dark contemporary world he has so brilliantly made his own in nine previously acclaimed novels and short story collections, such as Save Me, Joe Louis. Now he turns to the past and brings viscerally to life the slave rebellion that would bring an end to the white rule of Haiti in the late eighteenth century. The result is an explosive, epic historical novel of astonishing depth and range, catapulting Bell into the ranks of the finest living authors.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:30 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The 1791 revolt against the French in Haiti through the eyes of the parties in the conflict: mulattos, blacks and whites. The protagonists include its tragic leader, the aristocratic Toussaint L'Ouverture who refused to declare independence from France. A tale of burning plantations, massacres and Byzantine politics.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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