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3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 10 January 1997
Written in 1968, Styron's "Confessions" delves deep into
the psychology behind Nat Turner's 1831 slave revolt. Almost
unbearable in its graphic violence and Biblically-dimensioned
heartbreak, the novel (for it *is* fictional) has Turner
telling the whole story in painfully honest detail. Styron
neither defends Turner nor paints him as crazy; he is less
interested in pointing out right or wrong than in trying to
understand the broad ironies of the system of slavery and its
effects on the people who ran it and were subject to it.
Styron's Nat Turner is a man who is both educated and destroyed
by his masters; he is both uplifted and misled by the Bible.
His hatred is not fueled by the hatred of whites, but by the
pity of whites. And when he kills, he is only able to commit
one physical murder, though he takes responsibility for 60.
The book is often painful to read, especially for one who
might think that race relations today have little to do with
19th-century slavery. But in its wealth of detail and its
ability to enter into the mind of a complex and criminal mind,
it is unique, and should be required reading for every
self-termed patriotic American.
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on 11 March 2003
This book did something that few books do - it made me cry. I think my tears were the result of an immersion in the scene and characters of the novel (both of which are deeply and intensely drawn) and a general sense of frustration about the world that it should have such painful things in its history.
The hero of the novel, and the narrator of the story, is the leader of a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831, Nat Turner. It is based on real historical events and Styron claimed to be trying to re-create 'a man and his era' . The novel accompanies Turner through each painful, ill-fated move leading up to his capture and a sad end.
I think this book is remarkable for its thick, richly drawn character development. It's passionate, grand, awful, very serious, all these words seem to fit. It's definitely not a light read, but I have gone on to read other William Styron books, and this still seems the strongest and my favourite.
Many people will take a familiar moral message about the iniquities of slavery away from the reading of this book, but Styron also called it a 'meditation on history'. The true story of Nat Turner from his own point of view is not one we will ever hear. We do have a short pamphlet entitled 'The Confessions of Nat Turner', claiming to be his words (a piece of propaganda probably created by the court which tried him) and we have Styron's masterly novel. Two stories, and the truth probably in neither.
If you wanted to find out more about the 'real life' stories of slaves in the pre-Civil War US, I would also heartily recommend The Narrative of Frederick Douglas or Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl. I found these quite fascinating and powerful in a different way.
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on 22 September 2015

I am all for creative license but when it comes to historical facts the author really should at least try to get the basics facts right insteading of manufacturing, titillating sensational lies to sell this book. Making the strong freedom fighter, Nat Turner into some effeminate caricature and having him fantasizing what would it be like to have sex with a white woman is self indulgent,perverse with dishonesty and stretching the imagination .Nat Turner energies would more likely be concentrated on obtaining independence for himself and his people. Styron account is also based on a suspect document written by Thomas Gray. In my opinion Styron failed to grasp the complexity of Nat Turner's real burden or psyche. Although Styron account is emotive and painful it lacked honesty and depth.
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on 15 May 2013
Having read 'Sophie's Choice' I felt I understood a bit about the writer. Some of the issues came across very badly but I think Styron was a very good writer if a bit weird. By weird I mean issues regarding hate/love/wanting/despising women(as in Sophie's Choice' . Kept me interested though and made me look up as many real details as I could regarding Nat Turner.
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on 5 August 2013
We have hopefully arrived at a time when we can read this novel without the hysterical but necessary racial polemics that once drove such discourse in the USA. The need to combat racism is ever-present; but in the all-or-nothing atmosphere of the late 60s it's not surprising that this novel should have fallen victim to an increasingly polarised debate. That it did so is to be regretted, however.

A good novel should have the ability to offer new and intriguing insights to any succeeding generation of readers. On this basis alone, THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER delivers. Many readers have written passionately about Styron's complex and gripping account of Nat Turner's evolution into the instigator and leader of the only violent, armed revolt planned and enacted by slaves in the history of American Slavery. Styron offers compelling and uncomfortable reasons for why the revolt failed in even its most limited aims, outside of wholesale and bloody revenge. His eye is unremitting in its evaluation of the moral failings of everyone involved in the Special Institution. And his humanity, poetic sensibility and fairness shine through an emotionally heart (and gut)-wrenching story.

What struck a chord with this reader was the exchange between Gray and Turner in Part One, where Gray berates Turner for his messianic complex and his belief in God, citing such a psychological complex and system of belief as being the well-spring of the whole murderous endeavour. It's a recognisably `modern' attitude on the part of a character so virulently opposed to emancipation, racial equality and manumission. It resonates in our day and age when so many atrocities are committed in the name of this God or that God; and where political violence is clothed in the rhetoric of a Heavenly Mandate against this or that unclean group and/or Other. Styron places Nat's Divinely-ordained blood-bath at the very centre of his story, and ends with Nat Turner's belated realisation that he may have misunderstood God's message all along. Amen. And yet that in no way vitiates the fact that Slavery as a system brutalised millions and millions of men, women and children, black as well as white.

If we can reassess this novel and allow it to breathe on its own terms, we may re-discover a genuine American Classic.
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on 7 June 2015
This is one of the most beautiful and sad novels I have ever read. I didn't want to finish it. Styron explores the outcomes of the cruelty and ignorance of slavery without turning his protagonist into a hero. Nat is a murderer, but his ultimate betrayal, as well as his naive incomprehension of the enormity of the system he is fighting, is heartbreaking.
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on 6 May 2004
In August 1831, in a remote region of south-eastern Virginia, took place the only effective and sustained revolt in the history of American Negro slavery. That year, a black man, Nat Turner, awaits death in a prison cell. He is a slave, a preacher and the leader of the revolt. Mr Styron based his novel on the single significant contemporary document concerning this insurrection, namely a brief pamphlet of twenty pages called "The Confessions of Nat Turner", published in Richmond in 1831. The confession Turner made to his jailers under the duress of his God is a narrative describing a good man's transformation into an avenging angel even as it encompasses all the betrayals, cruelties and humiliations that made up slavery - and that is still present in the collective psyches of both races.
This magnificent book brilliantly depicts the American past in a dazzling narrative.
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on 7 April 2010
Styrons novel "the confessions of Nat Turner" uses the most famous slave revolt in US history as the starting point for a fictionalized biography of Nat Turner and by extension black american slavery itself. He conjurs up the horrors of slavery and its banalities in a fast paced narrative that is also an evocation of the subtle beauties of the Virginia countryside. Overall Styron succeds brilliantly in recreating the peculiarities of the American past whilst providing a primer on race relations for the American present.
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on 31 May 2014
Overlong and repetitive I'm afraid. Was looking forward to reading what I'd been led to believe was a classic, but I ended up with compassion fatigue very quickly.
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on 26 May 2015
One of the best books I've read. The mix of fiction and nonfiction keeps your attention all the way
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