All Souls' Rising

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Haiti in the late eighteenth century: a French colonial society founded on the backs of its black slaves; a morass of shifting political and personal loyalties, of hatred and cruelty meted out to match the increments of lightness and darkness in the color of skin; a world already haunted by its recent genocidal history and facing a new war of extermination in its dangerously near future. This is the setting for Madison Smartt Bell's "All Souls' Rising"—an explosive, epic historical novel. Leaving the dark, ...
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Haiti in the late eighteenth century: a French colonial society founded on the backs of its black slaves; a morass of shifting political and personal loyalties, of hatred and cruelty meted out to match the increments of lightness and darkness in the color of skin; a world already haunted by its recent genocidal history and facing a new war of extermination in its dangerously near future. This is the setting for Madison Smartt Bell's "All Souls' Rising"—an explosive, epic historical novel. Leaving the dark, contemporary world he has made his own in nine previous, highly acclaimed novels and short story collections, Bell now turns to the past and brings to life the slave rebellion of the 1790s that would bring an end to the brutal white rule in Haiti. At the epicenter of the rebellion is a second-generation African slave known as Toussaint-Louverture. Self-educated, favored and trusted by his master, quietly charismatic, bold in thought and subtle in action, Toussaint is determined to resist the excesses of the mob and still put an end to French dominion. Toussaint's story is the focal point of the larger drama of an avaricious inhumanity and the deadly conflagration that was its outcome, the consequences of which have reached even into our own time.

This National Book Award finalist and PEN/Faulkner Award nominee presents "a remarkable feat of historical imagination" The Washington Post. The horrific slave rebellion of the 1790s in Haiti is the focus of this epic historical novel of astonishing depth and range. Bell has broughtthese events viscerally to life, making them vivid, resonant, and believable for all readers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In an astonishing novel of epic scope, Bell Save Me, Joe Louis follows the lives of a handful of characters from radically different social strata during the period of Haiti's struggle for independence. Nothing about that period was simple. In 1791, when the Caribbean island that native Amerindians called ``Hayti'' was divided between a Spanish colony in the east and the French colony of Saint Domingue, a slave revolt broke out in the French territory that claimed 12,000 lives in its first months. But the fighting wasn't only between black slaves and white owners; the colony had a Byzantine social structure that recognized 64 different ``shades'' of mulatto; of the half-million blacks in Saint Domingue, some 30,000 were free mulattos whose political interests often ran contrary to those of the slaves. The country's 40,000 whites were themselves divided over the outcome of the recent revolution in France. During the next 12 years, to increase their power bases, four racial/political groups-white royalists, white republicans, free mulattos and black slaves-formed and dissolved a string of unlikely alliances at a dizzying clip. Bell's principals here include a runaway slave looking for real freedom, the disturbed mistress of a razed sugar plantation and a royalist soldier in the embattled Cap Franais guard. Central to the narrative are Toussaint L'Ouverture, the enigmatic 51-year-old leader of the revolt, and Doctor Antoine Hbert, a Frenchman who shows up in Haiti just before the revolt breaks out. Hbert, who spends time as Toussaint's prisoner, falls for a freed mulatto. Warned by a young married Frenchwomen that ``Who marries a black woman becomes black,'' the physician is appalled, yet heeds the very words he dismisses. Toussaint, too, bears the mark of contradiction. He appears to be a simple, devout man, but he has ``learned a way to make his words march in more than one direction.'' A handful of chapters are set in 1802, when Toussaint is taken across the Atlantic as a prisoner. By omitting the middle of the revolutionary's story during which he takes over Haiti, names himself governor-general and refuses to declare it independent, Bell astutely indicates that Toussaint, who saw himself as a noble warrior, was in fact motivated by a bizarre and self-defeating concept. By alluding to the end of the revolution only in a beautiful and haunting epilogue, moreover, Bell avoids the sense of victory that mars so many novels about revolution. Here at least, after more than 500 wrenching pages of rapes and massacres and fetuses impaled on pikes, there can be no question of a winner of the battle for Haitian liberation. Surviving it was feat enough. In Bell's hands, the chaos, marked by unspeakable acts of violence, that surrounds these characters somehow elucidates the nobility of even the most craven among them. Oct.
Library Journal
As has been the case throughout much of its history, Haiti in the 1790s was racked by violence-the result of an intricate and sometimes brutal system of racial and social classification exacerbated by the upheavals of the French Revolution. Thus, Haiti provides an ideal setting for Bell (Save Me Joe Louis, LJ 5/1/93) to explore his interest in the motivations that all too often propel us to give vent to our baser instincts. The story centers on the bloody beginnings of the rebellion from which Toussaint L'Ouverture, a seemingly docile slave, eventually emerged as the self-proclaimed governor general of the island. Bell has crafted a somewhat complex and violent tale-it opens with a woman being crucified for killing her baby so he would not have to live the life of a slave. Not for the faint-hearted, this work offers a fascinating glimpse into a little-known episode of hemispheric history. One can be glad for the chronology and the glossary Bell includes. Most appropriate for public libraries and academic libraries where Bell's work is popular. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/95.]-David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
From the Publisher
“As powerful as a hurricane. . . . All Souls’ Rising is really about us, our times, our prejudices, our race wars.” –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A serious historical novel that reads like a dream.” –The Washington Post Book World

“Rich and ambitious. . . . One of the most sophisticated fictional treatments of the enduring themes of class, color, and freedom.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“A powerful and intelligent novel. . . . Historical fiction in the monumental manner.” –The New York Times Book Review

“A beautifully composed, eloquent, grand nightmare of a book. With it, Bell becomes as remarkable a historical novelist as we have in this country.” –Harold Bloom

“A work of breathtaking stylistic expertise on a large scale, easily [Bell’s] most daring and accomplished novel.” —The Baltimore Sun

“A passionately engaged opus. All Souls’ Rising reflects both a sustained imaginative audacity and great intellectual resourcefulness.” —The New Yorker

“Remarkable. . . . All Souls’ Rising deserves to be read for its fictional representation of history and for its compelling characterizations. But its political importance should not be underestimated. . . . Bell’s excursion into revolutionary Haiti is the attempt of an undaunted novelist to stand face to face, as it were, with the prehistory of our own racial divisiveness. . . . An important book.” —The Oregonian

“I’ve known Madison Smartt Bell’s work for quite a while, and this is the best thing he’s ever done–and probably the best thing he’ll ever do, which is my definition of a masterpiece. All Souls’ Rising is simply breathtaking.” —Gloria Naylor

“The scope of this ambitious narrative is heroic. . . . Bell demonstrates that each race destroys itself in doing evil to the other.” —Chicago Tribune

“A major work, a triumph of both storytelling and inspired historical analysis.” —Robert Stone

“A vivid, visceral tale. . . . [Bell] has taken the events of eighteenth-century colonial Haiti and made them a prism for the most divisive issues confronting us today.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Bell’s luminous, intelligent novel . . . is magnificent. It restores my faith in the energy of American fiction.” —Barbara Probst Solomon

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140259476
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/1/1996
  • Series: Haitian Revolution Series, #1
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.72 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Madison Smartt  Bell

Madison Smartt Bell is the author of fourteen works of fiction, including The Stone That the Builder Refused; Master of the Crossroads; Save Me, Joe Louis; Dr. Sleep; Soldier's Joy; and Ten Indians. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his family and teaches at Goucher College.


Best known for an acclaimed trilogy of novels which chart the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803 (All Souls Rising; Master of the Crossroads; and The Stone That The Builder Refused), Madison Smartt Bell was born and raised in Nashville, TN, and educated at Princeton University and Hollins College. In addition to fiction that ranges from historical novels to short stories to dark psychological thrillers, he has written biographies (one of pioneering chemist Antoine Lavoisier and another of Haitian leader Toussaint L'Ouverture) and Charm City, an idiosyncratic guided tour of Baltimore, where he lives with his wife, the poet Elizabeth Spires. He has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and at Johns Hopkins University and currently directs the Creative Writing program at Goucher College. In 1996, Bell was chosen by the British literary magazine Granta as one of the twenty Best Young American Novelists. He is also an accomplished songwriter and musician.

Good To Know

"Two of my longterm pastimes are martial arts and music. I think this item of fact should make the characters I've written who practice both more plausible. I practiced Tae Kwon Do for 20 years until my knees stopped cooperating. Since then I've been doing Tae Chi -- great for concentration, meditation, clearing the head and restoring the energy, as well as being easier on the joints for anyone over 40. I've played various fretted instruments since I was 11, most recently electric guitar. Anything Goes, my most recent book, is a novel about a year in the live of a traveling cover band. It features a few original tunes cowritten by me and Wyn Cooper."

"Since 1996 I've been importing a few paintings from the Cap Haitien area of Haiti, as a benefit for painters there who suffer from the sharp decline of tourism. and some of these paintings can be seen at"

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    1. Hometown:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 1, 1957
    2. Place of Birth:
      Nashville, Tennessee
    1. Education:
      A.B. in English, Princeton University, 1979; M.A. in English and creative writing, Hollins College, 1981
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

Prologue 3
Pt. I Bois Cayman August 1791 9
Pt. II Leur Cafe Au Caramel August-November 1791 129
Pt. III Exchange of Prisoners November 1791-April 1792 263
Pt. IV Illumination August 1792-June 1793 353
Envoi 501
Chronology of Historical Events 505
Another Devil's Dictionary 524
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2001

    Brutal, but Bigger and More Ambitious Than Most

    All Soul¿s Rising is kind of an amazing book. It¿s bloody. Very bloody. But so is the subject matter. Bell is stretching himself on this one. I¿m not sure it gives the full complexity of the story from the slave¿s perspective, but this really feels like it¿s intended to set the grand stage for the books to follow. It does that well. The author¿s writing is precise and beautiful, even as it describes amazing horrors. I look forward to the next one. If Bell can tie all these story lines together and somehow give meaning to this chaos he will be achieving something grand, something few authors even attempt.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2001

    A Masterpiece

    George Bernard Shaw says somewhere that one can better learn about the past from historical novels than from history texts. That's not generally true, I think; but Bell's recreation of events in the first two years of the 1791¿1803 Haitian revolution ¿ All Souls Rising ¿ is the kind of work Shaw must had in nind. Master of the Crossroads, the second work in his trilogy, carries Bell's account to 1801. Both books are imaginatively conceived, extensively researched, and brilliantly written. I recommend them highly.

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