, the latest book by award-winning poet and novelist Fred D'Aguiar, invites us to read its title in two ways: as the "bloodlines" of inheritance, and as lines written in blood. D'Aguiar's new work, a novel in verse, deals directly with the brutish facts and festering legacy of slavery ("hoping to kill the soul/ by wrecking the body") by focusing on the "illegal passion" between Faith, a slave, and Christy, the son of a plantation owner.
Interracial sex--even now a delicate subject in the United States--becomes the centre of a multi-faceted narrative, as the consequences of their relationship is refracted through a variety of characters. The whole is mediated through the narrator, Faith and Christy's orphaned son, who becomes the personification of their terrible history: "I am the lives of slaves... The past won't let me leave." Condemned to the act of compulsive witnessing ("My cloudy head/ humming full of Slavery's towering dead"), the deathless narrator survives to see slavery mutate into other versions of bigotry: "Slavery may be buried ... Racism still breeds."
D'Aguiar's book is written in ottava rima, a complex rhyming verse form used most notoriously by Lord Byron in Beppo and Don Juan, and can be seen as a modern-day answer to Byron's dislike of "cant political, religious and moral" and to the latter poem's digressional structure. After the opening section, which recounts Faith and Christy's story, we get sections on the later lives of the now separated Faith and Christy, followed by the narratives of Tom and Stella, ex-slaves who are now part of the Underground Railroad--the secret route to freedom for escapees from the Southern states.
The book's structure allows D'Aguiar to roam freely through the inner worlds of his cast of characters: in fact his verse is most alive when dealing with the intimacy of sex and the unfettered freedom allowed by imagination. Among the most vivid passages in the book are Tom and Stella's very different dreams of an idyllic Africa, in which sensual details combine to articulate the "thinking heart" that "involves the spine, the sap of trees,/ and history." It is this insistence on the imaginative autonomy of the self that balances and counters the book's bleak architecture of violence; and in an age that has seen the resurgence of ethnic divisions and racist rhetoric, D'Aguiar's voice is a bold and necessary declaration of the specifics of love and the imagination over the crude abstractions of hatred. --Burhan Tufail
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"A tour de force- A compelling, urgent story which is both sensual and lyrical-Marvellous" (John Burnside Sunday Herald
"The bold, controversial language and the force of the narrative compel and intrigue from the start. This is a short novel with an epic personality, encompassing themes of slavery, race, love and immortality-Wonderful" (Scotland on Sunday
"'D'Aguiar's lithe poetic prose has the deft focus of a camera lens-A beautiful and engaging novel in verse'" (Metro