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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, compelling story., 10 Dec 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Crossing the River (Paperback)
A father is forced to sell his three children, Nash, Martha, and Travis, into slavery after his crops fail. A chapter is devoted to the life story of each of the children and the trials and tribulations each went through are movingly described. The log of a slave ship captain is included as well, providing the reader with valuable insight. Within each chapter a unique voice is found, its tale told, its life unfolded. These are not only the beautifully told, touching stories of individuals, it's also a tale of 'father Africa' reaching out to all his children everywhere, knowing they will encounter numerous hardships but having faith that they can overcome all. It is impossible not to be touched by the stories and moved by the powerful messages they effectively deliver.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, but wanted more from the first half..., 17 Jan 2005
This review is from: Crossing the River (Paperback)
Caryl Phillips Commonwealth Writers' Prize-winning 'Crossing the river' is a beautifully written, thought-provoking and, at times, extremely moving work that dealing with experiences of the African diaspora over two and a half centuries. Although I have significant reservations about the content and structure of this work, I have no hesitation in strongly recommending this novel, particularly for the final and longest part titled 'Somewhere in England' which had me visibly (and
self-consciously) gutted in full view of hundreds in a busy, open-plan coffee shop!!
The novel consists of four chapters sandwiched within brief introductory and concluding passages. In the introductory section, a father sells his three children - Nash, Martha and Travis - into slavery. These children become the "broken off limbs of a tree" seeking to sink "hopeful roots into difficult soil in distant lands", the protagonists of three of the chapters, scattered in both place and time. The four chapters that follow are essentially three discrete short stories and a concluding novella: the only interlinking between these disparate stories is that the protagonists share names with the three children mentioned in the novel's opening which make it questionable whether this work has sufficient structural cohesion to be termed a novel.
The first chapter relates the story of Nash Williams, a former slave returning to 'the pagan coast' of Africa, to 'civilise' and convert to Christianity natives away from Monrovia in Sierra Leone. Nash's story is told primarily through letters written in the 1830s and early 1840s to his American (white) father. These letters are beautifully written and, whilst they make pleasurable reading, I had difficulty believing that they could have been written by someone with the presumably limited educational opportunities of a former slave. Furthermore, I felt short-changed by Nash's story as there is insufficient plot or character development in what essentially is a fifty-page short story.
The second chapter describes events in Martha's life as, in order to avoid being resold, she heads West towards California in search of her daughter, Eliza Mae. This very short story includes some harrowing descriptions of the effects of slavery on a family, although again I probably wanted to spend more time with Martha.
The third chapter consists of the cabin log of a twenty-six year old captain of a slaving ship in the 1750s, interspersed with his letters home to his young wife. The young James Hamilton seems uncomfortable with his vocation and station, passed down from a brutal father who died a violent death. The journals and letters provide evidence of the general harshness of life for slaves and shipmates, as well as matter-of-fact reporting in the trading of human cargo - information which, whilst interesting, is probably part of the reader's general knowledge.
The fourth section - a novella of over a hundred pages - is not merely the most successful section of the book, but amongst the most compelling and well-written stories that I've ever read. In short, diary-style entries ranging backwards and forwards primarily through the years of World War II, the reader is treated into the insights and humanity of Joyce, a reserved, socially-awkward and unhappily married young English lady who befriends an American GI, Travis. The diary notes capture Joyce's voice perfectly. This chapter has many interesting characters - not least Joyce herself - and is packed full of incident and emotion. Despite my reservations about the structure of this work and wishing that earlier chapters were more developed, this novel is highly recommended for the exceptional quality of writing, the serious issues that it raises and - above all - for its final chapter 'Somewhere in England'.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not for light reading or for every reader., 29 July 2013
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This review is from: Crossing the River (Paperback)
Difficult to follow in places but worth persevering to understand some of the reality of slavery, racism and its consequences.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Appropriation of the patronizing power of English(ness), 16 Jan 2010
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Felipe Fons (Belgium) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Crossing the River (Hardcover)
He (C.Phillips or the personage) uses the colonizing englishness and makes it his. The ex-african adopts the attitude of becoming and not resisting. Since there was no place, no culture and no african language to grow with, he defies the stigmas of his time, or the time of the slavery.

Great job!
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Crossing the River
Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips (Paperback - 7 Sep 2006)
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