Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Review: Sweetsmoke

Summary: The year is 1862, and the Civil War rages through the South. On a Virginia tobacco plantation, another kind of battle soon begins. There, Cassius Howard, a skilled carpenter and slave, risks everything—punishment, sale to a cotton plantation, even his life—to learn the truth concerning the murder of Emoline, a freed black woman, a woman who secretly taught him to read and once saved his life. It is clear that no one cares about her death in the midst of a brutal and hellish war. No one but Cassius, who braves horrific dangers to escape the plantation and avenge her loss.

As Cassius seeks answers about Emoline’s murder, he finds an unexpected friend and ally in Quashee, a new woman brought over from another plantation; and a formidable adversary in Hoke Howard, the master he has always obeyed.

With subtlety and beauty, Sweetsmoke captures the daily indignities and harrowing losses suffered by slaves, the turmoil of a country waging countless wars within its own borders, and the lives of those people fighting for identity, for salvation, and for freedom. -- Hyperion

I have been wanting to read SWEETSMOKE by David Fuller since I heard about it way back last summer. The premise behind this book sounded so unique to me -- kind of a Civil War/historical fiction story mixed in with a murder mystery. It took me a few months to get my hand on a copy of SWEETSMOKE; but thanks to Mini Book Expo for Bloggers, I finally received an ARC. I couldn't wait to read it! Unfortunately, I started it during the chaotic holidays and really couldn't devote the attention it deserved until one calm Sunday afternoon. Then, I absolutely devoured this wonderful book.

Ever since I was a kid, I have always found novels about the Civil War to be extremely interesting -- I guess I'd choose that time period as my favorite one in the United States' history. SWEETSMOKE definitely goes up there are one of the best books about the Civil War that I've read in recent memory. I thought Mr. Fuller captured the essence of this time period perfectly. I was so impressed by how realistic he made this novel from the personalities of the characters, to the descriptions of the war scenes, to the dialect between the characters --everything just clicked to me.

I think the aspect of this novel that I found to be most appealing was the character of Cassius. He has been in my thoughts not only while I read SWEETSMOKE, but days and days after completing the book. To me, that really means he was an amazing character. Cassius was an extremely complex and sometimes flawed character; however, I found myself drawn to his story. I love that Mr. Fuller made Cassius such an incredibly real person. His intelligence, desires, frustrations, insecurities and even his humor were so well-developed for a character (especially character who was a slave) in a novel.

I was also extremely impressed with how Mr. Fuller told this story. The writing was so vivid that I could picture every detail, especially those of the battles in the war. I so appreciated how the author not only told a story about a slave during the Civil War, but incorporated a murder mystery into the plot. SWEETSMOKE just made me think on so many different levels. I just thought it was a brilliantly told story!

There is a wonderful website devoted to the novel SWEETSMOKE. You can learn more about the novel there as well as read some of the praise that keeps coming in for this book. There is a map of the SWEETSMOKE plantation and even a link to an excerpt from the first chapter of the novel. In addition, you can read about author David Fuller -- he actually is a descendant of some men who fought in the Civil War -- and even take a look at his blog. There is also a very interesting Q&A with Mr. Fuller which will definitely give you more insight into his novel.

As if I need to repeat this (I'm sure you can tell how much I liked this book) -- I highly recommend SWEETSMOKE, especially if you enjoy historical fiction or novels about the Civil War. It would make a most excellent book club discussion book too! There are a great deal of things to discuss in this novel, especially those concerning the themes of justice and morality. There are also many thought-provoking discussion questions available which will help facilitate your meeting.

Thanks to Mini Book Expo for Bloggers for granting me the privilege of reviewing SWEETSMOKE.


Anonymous said...

I have this book in my TBR pile. I somehow couldn't get myself to read it. Great review, glad you enjoyed the book.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you liked it, Julie. I think I'll try some of the historical fiction I already have before I get this one. Great review, as always.

Kelly said...

I'm going to have to get this one, I love civil war books. Your review is terrific!

Elizabeth said...

Excellent review, as usual!

Thanks for making my reading list so long! Love being overwhelmed like that!!

Bonnie said...

Great Review Julie. I have this one on my TBR shelves and look forward to reading it. I have said this a lot lately which means that I need some time for some serious reading!!!

Amy said...

This review made me want to bump this book up the list! Thanks. :)

kristen said...

What's the mini book expo? Inquiring minds would love to know... :)

Julie P. said...


It's basically a website that offers books from publishers on a first come, first serve basis. You have to sign up via their website and the publishers sends the book (two book limit) directly to you. You are agreeing to write a review of the book and either send them the actual review or a link to it.

Anonymous said...

No doubt Civil War times were of great historical interest. Naval history from that time is particularly spellbinding. I am considering a historical novel about that time -- but a little know pirate named Theophilus Turner caught my attention instead, and that's the book I wrote. History buffs -- enjoy.

Anna said...

Sounds like a great book. I'll probably read it when the reading challenge blog I'm co-hosting, War Through the Generations, gets to the Civil War.

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