This is one of those books that make me glad that I participate in my local library’s book group! I would never have gone out of my way to read this book and I surprisingly enjoyed it. I’ve done like I did with Dances with Wolves and broken down this post into the book and movie sections. I don’t think I will add a book group recap unless something really bad happens like with Dances with Wolves.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore that I’m enjoying the books selected for book group. They’ve broadened my reading and helped me to branch out, not just because of the styles and subjects I never would’ve read, but because the film adaptations are older and they are really interesting!
I think I REALLY enjoyed this book because I assumed this was a nonfiction work (for the masses) and not a novelization. So somehow I mentally tricked myself into thinking I was REALLY enjoying a work of nonficiton when I sometimes struggle to make it through them. Even at points when the author made inferences about historical figures, I just said to myself “oh he’s just using a little creative license to make the story more interesting.”
The story was fascinating and tracks Singbe from his home in Africa through the transatlantic slave passage to Cuba and eventually to the US. What is different about this journey is that it is after the ban of importing slaves from Africa. So only slaves that are born slaves are eligible to be bought and sold within the US. And so there was a lot of underhanded manipulation and legal dodging even AFTER it’s been proven that Singbe and his compatriots are from Africa and not a Spanish plantation in Cuba.
Overall, I thought the book was well written and the story told in such a way that it kept me interested. I must also note that, as a sappy romantic (see definition two) the ending of the book made me very happy and even had me tear up just a little.
To be honest, I’d say pass on the film. It wasn’t bad, it was just REALLY long, as in a good hour longer than it needed to be! Even though I’m sure the ending of the movie was more accurate/factual than the book it put me in a sad mood and I didn’t really want to have that image tarnished, but I did.
Given I read a fictionalization of the account and not an actual history, I can only speak to what I believe to be the story and I felt they made quite a few unnecessary additions to the story. I’m not sure if there was a former slave who helped out with the case and the abolitionist movement, but I honestly felt like it was a part created solely to get Morgan Freeman into the movie.
I felt Djimon Hounsou did a wonderful job as Cinque/Singbe and the scene where he stands up in court and speaks English for the first time was one of the most moving of the entire movie. As the movie progressed, his constantly yelling/speaking loudly and aggressively, got to me and I lost some interest because I couldn’t help but wonder if he was hoarse for a weeks after filming! As for Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams, I wasn’t impressed at first but towards the end of the movie I could see why he was chosen and I could appreciate it.
The only other thought I have is that John Williams did another over-the-top soundtrack. There were a few occasions where it meshed perfectly but more often than not I felt (not the Academy Awards though) that it was just too much!
Recommendation: I’d pass on the movie but if you’re interested in the slave trade and the history of the civil war I’d check out the book. The movie, in closing, gives an explicit link between the Amistad case and the Civil War which the book only touches on.
Opening Line: “A cold touch woke him from a dreamless sleep.”
Closing Line: “Laundry and an old brown basket floated down on the slow, steady current.” (Whited out.)