Saturday, October 25, 2014

Caleb: A Novel by Charles Alverson: Rise from Slave to Union Hero

Bostonian indentured servant Caleb has been sold into slavery. Boyd Jardine buys Caleb on a whim, later discovering that Caleb is more than strong--he is educated and intelligent. Jardine grooms Caleb for tasks befitting his skills, and eventually Caleb is running the plantation. In the evenings he cozily reads the newspaper to his Master.

 Jardine treats him well, even providing a "wife". The likelihood of escape is small with bounty hunters combing the countryside for runaways. But Caleb wants freedom badly. Master Jardine proposes a win-win situation: Caleb will go into boxing and keep his winnings, while Master Jardine places bets to win more money--which he will split 50-50 with Caleb. This way Caleb can buy his freedom.

Life after freedom offers limited opportunities for an educated free black man. War has broken out, and Caleb finds himself in the Union army.

I read this book in two sittings. The writing keeps the reader's interest and the later half is action-packed. Reader reviews are generally positive.

Caleb feels like a mythic or legendary character, or a character from a Graphic Novel. As historical fiction this book has little realism. This slave world is just too comfortable. Master Jardine is a trusting and enabling master and Caleb is a veritable Frederick Douglas clone. This is a tidied up version of the "peculiar institution" that brought about the United State's most important crisis. There is no surprise to the ending.

The book a lot of action, and good characterization. The worst violence is in the boxing matches, and there is no graphic sex scenes. Overall, it was a good read, but not impressive literature.

Caleb by Charles Alverson
Lake Union Publishing
ISBN-13: 9781477826232; ISBN-10: 1477826238
Publication date:

Charles Alverson is a prolific writer who was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone magazine and who wrote the screenplays for Jabberwocky and Brazil.