on 1 August 2005
This has been sitting on my bedside table for some time, but I wish I had picked it up sooner. The characterisation, the themes, the language and the plot are fascinating and absorbing and I have found the book poignant, funny and very moving. It is a wonderful story beautifully told and I think it is a shame that it has not received more widespread acclaim outside Scotland, where it justly has won prizes. It is one of the best books I've read for some time.
on 13 May 2003
Genealogist, author of the Internet "Wedderburn Pages", and direct descendant of the real life Wedderburns who play a central role in this book, I have come to know the family history pretty well. This atmospheric, no-holds-barred account, rings true in almost every detail. The vital narrative vividly evokes the milieu and culture of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Scottish history, encouraging the reader to reappraise conventional understanding of the British role in the marginalisation and subjugation of a people uprooted and transported to a life of slave labour in the West Indian sugar plantations. (How many of us are aware that sugar and slavery created the foundations of the first British empire?)
Robertson has managed to bring my ancestors to life through an entirely believable characterisation of brothers James and John Wedderburn, portrayed as I had always imagined them - a testament both to the author’s meticulous research and considerable insight. We follow the family on a journey from impoverishment following the defeat of the Jacobite uprising and Bonny Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, to enforced exile in Jamaica, and, finally, the immense riches amassed by the family through the exploitation of slave labour in the Caribbean sugar trade, prior to their eventual return to Scotland. The curious blend of the historian’s penchant for accuracy and, in Robertson’s own words, a number of ‘liberties’ with the historical record, the blurring of the line between truth and fiction, do not detract from the reader’s sense of the work’s authenticity and credibility.
James Wedderburn reflects the certitudes, and John the first stirrings of doubts, surrounding the acceptability of white dominion over the black slave at the time. Despite John’s misgivings and a certain degree of guilt, he believes to the end of his life that he was entitled to consider Joseph Knight a possession, notwithstanding defeat in the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court. For years many members of the Jamaican plantocracy had taken advantage of the notion of ownership to exercise their ‘rights’ over their female slaves, and use and abuse them as they saw fit. It is somewhat ironic that James, utterly convinced of this right, was to father a son by his mulatto housekeeper Rosanna who was later to prove a real thorn in the family’s side. An acquaintance of Wilberforce, author of radical tracts and a revolutionary preacher, James’s son Robert was to become a leading and influential proponent of abolitionism, his autobiography “The Horrors of Slavery” a vivid indictment of an execrable system. (Ideal material for a sequel by James Robertson, perhaps?!)
I could not but be impressed by this unembellished yet dramatic, powerful and convincing account of a darker period of British colonialism, one which breathes extraordinary life into a lesser known era, in a manner which renders our past, skeletons included, accessible to all.
on 12 November 2007
Despite being a slow reader, this book was so rewarding to me: the Scottish and West Indian history, the horrors of the slave trade, the familiar Scottish names and places, all of this was so absorbing and shocking too. Mr Robertson writes so eloquently and I love the Scottish dialect making the people's conversations so real and human. A truly wonderful read. I now have to visit the Museum of the Docklands in London in which there is a gallery devoted to 'London, Sugar & Slavery'.
on 24 October 2011
A super read. Robertson is a wonderful story teller and this is a story which every Scot should read. It reveals how some Scots made their wealth from using and abusing the slaves in Jamaica, how some had a stirring of conscience about this but more often they thought of these black peoples as property.
Others have in their reviews revealed the plot, which is based on a true story. Robertson has imagined some of the missing parts of the story in such a way that you truly emphasise with the Negroes taken from their homeland with no hope of ever having a true home again. He tells of some very humane Scots who support the call for freedom and tells much of the story in the vernacular. I just loved the court scenes in Broad Scots with a glimpse of the Enlightenment changes in thinking. And I enjoyed the Bozzy and Johnson vignettes. A wonderful book, educating and amusing as will as giving a feast of food for thought.
on 20 April 2004
Easily the most enjoyable piece of fictional writing I have read in a longtime. I just could not put it down until I had finished it. Like anotherwork by the same author, 'The Fanatic', this book has so obviously beenmeticulously researched and planned.
The author successfully interweaves time, history, travel, the Scotstongue, emotions, intrigue and human relationships into a compelling storyand brings the characters so much to life you feel as if you know themwell. Everything is so real.
James Robertson must surely be recognised as one of the leading Scottishwriters of the 21st century - I am eagerly awaiting his next publication!
on 27 February 2012
I enjoyed this book very much indeed. It is on a par with Joseph O'Connor's 'Star of the Sea' and I have already recommended it to several friends but thought readers, both Scots and others, should at least be told that large parts of it are written in a transcription of Scots' dialect, some stronger than others. This didn't put me off (much) but I also have to say that I didn't understand every single word, though it gets easier as you go along and your ear (eye?) learns to deal with it. Having said this, don't let that put you off, as it is totally worth the little effort needed.