Thursday, 3 December 2020

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle

: Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

Cane Warriors carves a story for young adults from the same dark material that gave us books such as The Long Song by Andrea Levy and Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton. This, however, is aimed at Young Adult readers.

The novel is rooted in the true story of Tacky’s War – an uprising of Akan slaves that took place in Jamaica in the summer of 1760.

It begins with Moa on the Frontier Plantation, being approached in the middle of the night.

“Louis’ thick fingers dug into my shoulder … ‘We is gonna bruk outta here ‘pon what de white man call Easter Sunday,’ he said, ‘T’ree days time.’”

The Akan people people were taken as slaves from what is now Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. And the Frontier Plantation is a real place, not far from where Wheatle’s mother grew up.

Some readers may be shocked by the violence that ensues. But Wheatle doesn’t shrink from showing us the unrelenting cruelty and brutality that drove the slaves to such extremes. Nor does he pretend that such acts are without cost to those that undertake them.

Moa is only fourteen, an age at which we would now consider him a child soldier. Far from being forced to take part, however, Moa is repeatedly given the chance by the leaders of the rebellion to take a step back. That he chooses to stay – even though he is haunted by the horrors he has seen – is because each and every one is outweighed by the horrors he has seen perpetrated by the slave masters every day of his short life.

This is a time when the elder slaves on the plantation still maintain a connection to their African roots – striving to keep alive a memory of their language, their traditions and their gods. But that knowledge is fast dying out.

A novel about friendship, courage and sacrifice, and how those things can survive even in the face of unimaginable brutality. It also shows that the struggle against slavery and the slave trade did not begin and end in British courtrooms or the battlefields of the American Civil War. As Wheatle reminds us in his foreword, Tacky’s War was only the beginning. Slaves fought for their freedom in subsequent uprisings in Haiti, Grenada, Barbados and again in Jamaica.

By telling the story from the close point of view of one teenager, Wheatle transforms a powerful history lesson into a heartbreaking, page-turning narrative. 

Longlisted for the inaugural Jhalak Children and Young Adult Prize

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Freedom by Catherine Johnson

Avoid If You Dislike: Frank depictions of brutal violence

Perfect Accompaniment: roast chicken with mango, guava and soursop

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Buy This Book Here

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