‘The sea is slavery.’
Inspired by a true story, this suspenseful and moving book chronicles an incident of courage and rebellion that took place aboard a disease-riddled slave ship, the Zong, returning from Africa. When illness threatens to infect all on board, the ship’s captain orders his crew to seize the sick slaves – men, women, and children – and throw them into the sea. But one female slave, Mintah, survives drowning and secretly climbs back onto the ship. From her hiding place, she attempts to rouse the remaining captives to rebel against the killings, becoming a dangerous force on the ship.
A trial is held upon the ship’s arrival to determine liability for the 131 missing slaves. The crew is nearly absolved of responsibility until Mintah’s journal is produced, which directly contradicts the crew’s accounts. The final words belong to Mintah, whose first-person account of her life after the Zong is troubling and dramatic.
Powerful and poetic, Feeding the Ghosts by Fred D’Aguiar is an unforgettable testimony to the struggle against oblivion and a reminder of history overlooked and truth distorted. D’Aguiar’s imagery is haunting, his characters’ thoughts complex and the mood is darkly compelling.
Reviews: Feeding the Ghosts
“In his lyrical third novel, D’Aguiar (Whitbread Award winner for The Longest Memory) fictionalizes a horrifying incident that occurred in 1781. The Zong, a slave ship headed home to England, is packed to capacity with Africans. Shrewd and remote Captain Cunningham considers those 408 people chained below deck to be merely profitable cargo. But his first mate, Kelsal, has more ambivalent feelings about the captives because Africans once saved his life. When illness spreads among the slaves, Cunningham orders the crew to throw the sick overboard so the ship can collect insurance money for the loss. Mintah, an educated African who speaks English and who recognizes Kelsal from her days as one of his caregivers, stuns and frightens the crew with her heroic protests. Beaten and thrown into the sea, she manages to haul herself back onto the ship, where her influence both inspires and divides the remaining slaves. A trial is held upon the ship’s arrival to determine liability for the 131 missing slaves. The crew is nearly absolved of responsibility until Mintah’s journal is produced, which directly contradicts the crew’s accounts. The final words belong to Mintah, whose first-person account of her life after the Zong is troubling and dramatic. D’Aguiar’s spare prose starkly reveals the inner lives of Kelsal and Mintah and the crew members as they face the moral weight of this atrocity. D’Aguiar’s imagery is haunting, his characters’ thoughts complex and the mood darkly compelling. Comparisons to Amistad are inevitable, but D’Aguiar’s accounting of the moral wages of the slave trade is a unique work of fiction that stands on its own merits. Agent, Bruce Hunter at David Higham Associates.” –Publishers Weekly
“By turns dreamlike and almost unbearably gritty, D’Aguiar’s poignant take on a historic event transports the reader deep into the very timbers of the slave ship Zong, en route from Africa. The ship runs off course, losing several sailors and slaves to disease before its captain makes the shocking decision to throw sick slaves overboard. Disgusted with their orders but either loyal or cowardly, the crew disposes of 131 sick Africans and one bold, articulate young slave woman, Mintah, who dares to object to the proceedings. Remarkably, Mintah survives the sea and climbs back on board the Zong, hiding in food stores and protected by the kind, slow-witted cook’s assistant. She becomes the voice of hope and resistance. Upon the Zong’s arrival in the Americas, the “destruction of stock” becomes the subject of a court case in which only Mintah’s words consider its true horror. This gripping, horrifying, poetic novel is highly recommended for all libraries.” –Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Library Journal