All Souls' Rising

All Souls' Rising

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by Madison Smartt Bell

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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… See more details below


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.

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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.
Donna Seaman
Bell's tenth book, an intricately plotted historical novel about the slave revolt in Haiti, seems like a radical departure from his quintessentially modern tales about renegades and loners. But upon further reflection, we see how the story of Haiti meshes with Bell's concern with race relations and his fascination with apocalyptic conflicts. A southerner, Bell is attuned to the nuances of a culture stratified and poisoned by the byzantine politics of color. And he is able to re-create the tension and rage of the Haitian revolution, one of the bloodiest fights for freedom, with a joltingly visceral immediacy. We feel the tropical heat, hear the whine of mosquitoes, and smell the sickening fumes of burning sugarcane, blood, and fear. And we identify strongly with Bell's intrepid characters, men and women of all hues, caught in a confluence of forces that reveals their capacity for evil and compassion. There's Toussaint, an archetypal leader, wise and tough, and Doctor Hebert, a modest man of quiet strength who falls in love with Nanon, a beautiful mulatto. Nanon is only one of several courageous women who face madness and terror with surprising composure. Bell's writing has never been more powerful or passionate than it is here, in this electrifying saga.
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

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Haitian Revolution Series, #1
Edition description:
1st Edition
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.65(d)

What People are saying about this

Harold Bloom
A beautifully composed, elegant, grand nightmare of a book. With it, Bell becomes as remarkable a historical novelist as we have in this country.
Gloria Meylor
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.
Robert Stone
Madison Smartt Bell's All Souls' Rising is a deceptively forthright examination of Caribbean history and of the murderous of race against race, which so often mocks humane ideals and sweeps them and their advocates ruthlessly aside. It is a major work, a triumph of both storytelling and of inspired historical analysis.

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