Sacred Hunger

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Overview

Sacred Hunger is a stunning and engrossing exploration of power, domination, and greed. Filled with the "sacred hunger" to expand its empire and its profits, England entered full into the slave trade and spread the trade throughout its colonies. In this Booker Prize-winning work, Barry Unsworth follows the failing fortunes of William Kemp, a merchant pinning his last chance to a slave ship; his son who needs a fortune because he is in love with an upper-class woman; and his nephew who sails on the ship as its ...
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Sacred Hunger

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Overview

Sacred Hunger is a stunning and engrossing exploration of power, domination, and greed. Filled with the "sacred hunger" to expand its empire and its profits, England entered full into the slave trade and spread the trade throughout its colonies. In this Booker Prize-winning work, Barry Unsworth follows the failing fortunes of William Kemp, a merchant pinning his last chance to a slave ship; his son who needs a fortune because he is in love with an upper-class woman; and his nephew who sails on the ship as its doctor because he has lost all he has loved. The voyage meets its demise when disease spreads among the slaves and the captain's drastic response provokes a mutiny. Joining together, the sailors and the slaves set up a secret, utopian society in the wilderness of Florida, only to await the vengeance of the single-minded, young Kemp.

In this Booker Prize-winning work set in colonial America, Unsworth follows the failing fortunes of William Kemp, a merchant pinning his last chance to a slave ship; his son, who needs his father's fortune; and his nephew, who sails on the ill-fated ship.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This vast, vividly realistic historical novel follows the crew of a slave-trading vessel from its Liverpool shipyard through days at anchor bartering human cargo on the Guinea Coast, then on beyond the slaver's disease-ridden and mutinous Middle Passage. With an epic ambition that seems suited to its 18th-century setting, Unsworth Stone Virgin takes on a big theme--greed, the animating ``sacred hunger'' of the title--but at the same time fills his huge canvas with the alternately fascinating and horrifying details of shipboard life, colonial plunder and power struggles, the London clubs of absentee sugar lords, even a pidgin Utopia created by slaves and seamen on unclaimed Florida coast. Deftly utilizing a flood of period detail, Unsworth has written a book whose stately pace, like the scope of its meditations, seems accurately to evoke the age. Tackling here a central perversity of our history--the keeping of slaves in a land where ``all men are created equal''--Unsworth illuminates the barbaric cruelty of slavery, as well as the subtler habits of politics and character that it creates. As intricate as it is immense, this masterwork rewards every turn of its 640 pages. July one with a continuing fascination for readers and authors alike--Unsworth illuminates its cruel ties and miscarriages, its floggings and murders, as well as the subtler habits of politics and character that it creates. As intricate as it is immense, this masterwork rewards every turn of its 640 pages.
Library Journal
With its graphic depiction of the 18th-century slave trade and a society driven by the desire to maximize profit regardless of the human cost, this new novel by the author of Pascali's Island (Penguin, 1988) offers a dark view of human nature clearly relevant to our own time. William Kemp hopes to recoup his losses in cotton speculation by entering the Triangular Trade. As ship's doctor, his nephew Matthew experiences firsthand the horrors of shipboard life, ultimately leading a revolt that lands the crew and remaining slaves on the southeastern coast of Florida. Here they try to establish ``a paradise place,'' but events force Matthew to conclude that ``nothing a man suffers will prevent him from inflicting suffering on others. Indeed, it will teach him the way.'' Though the pace drags at times, taken as a whole this is a masterful effort that delivers an important message. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Kirkus Reviews
A masterful, thoroughly engrossing tale from acclaimed historical novelist Unsworth (Pascali's Island, 1980; Stone Virgin, 1986)—about the British slave trade in the mid-18th century and a shipboard mutiny from which arose a community based on racial equality. Through the perspectives of Erasmus Kemp, son of the shipowner and an obsessive, insensitive youth; and Matthew Paris—his cousin, a doctor (and ship's physician) recently imprisoned for publishing his seditious views in favor of evolution—Unsworth contrasts imagery of a genteel life in England with an increasingly brutal, barbaric existence under the command of the maniacal Captain Thurso. As slaves are collected from traders along the African coast, the fortunes of the owner decline precipitously, with his suicide and the ruin of Erasmus's fanciful plans of empire-building and grandeur through a good marriage the result. Becalmed, the ship's human cargo begins to sicken and die, and an increasingly vexed Thurso opts to alleviate matters by throwing ailing slaves overboard—an act spurring Paris and the crew to kill him. After landing on the remote coast of Florida, ex-slaves and sailors live in freedom for 12 years—inspired by the utopian ideals of an itinerant artist picked up in Africa—until they are captured by soldiers under Erasmus, who, consumed by the same sacred hunger for wealth that made chattel of human beings, has spared no effort to hunt down the cousin whom he blames for the loss of his dream. Intense in its elaboration of two vastly different visions of destiny and cause-and-effect, more steeped in history than Charles Johnson's Middle Passage: a riveting, outstanding addition toan already impressive oeuvre.
New York Times Book Review
“Wonderful and heartbreaking....It is a book of grace and meditative elegance, and of great moral seriousness.”
Washington Post
“Utterly magnificent....By its last page, you will be close to weeping.”
Chicago Tribune
“This brilliantly suspenseful period piece about the slave trade in the 18th century is also a meditation on how avarice dehumanizes the oppressor as well as the oppressed.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385265300
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/1/1992
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 640

Meet the Author

Barry Unsworth (1930-2012), who won the Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger, was a Booker Prize finalist for Morality Play and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for The Ruby in Her Navel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(11)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(1)

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2012

    Lust for lucre

    Debt, slavery, the nature of justice and morality. Screw you Ayn Rand.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2000

    Sacred storytelling

    At last, a book! I was intent to read the book that was trying to be written during 'Sugar and Rum'. I hadn't been so interested since searching out 'A Rebours' (the phantom book of Dorian Gray). Sacred Hunger is a book that I thought couldn't be written by a present day author due to the general lack of talent. Thank you Barry Unsworth. To anyone reading this review please excuse my lack of information (there are people more able to do that) and read Sacred Hunger. A visit to the slave museum in Liverpool would then bring it home.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2012

    Well worth it

    I am guilty of starting a book, and if it is slow going after about 100 pages, I put it down and (sometimes) never go back. I almost did that on Sacred Hunger, and am really glad I persevered. The book has great historical details on shipbuilding, life aboard a slave ship, early British society, the history of early Florida and the African slave trade. The characters are flawed, the story is dark, but absolutely wonderful. Great book for a book club. A very powerful book--one of the best I have read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 17, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Blockbuster

    A powerful book set at the time of the triangle trade. Unsworth possesses the knack of writing characters who are truly believable and understandable even if they are despicable. The gut-wrenching sections aboard the slave ship are not for the faint-hearted, but the book continues beyond these horrors as the shipwrecked survivors establish a utopian community in Florida. I found this book very hard to put down and highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2003

    a Masterpiece. Superb

    Barry Unsworth is definitely one of the finest writers of our time. He may be the BEST. Memorable scenes never described as well aboard a slave boat. and the Liverpool culture, and the times. and the conflicting personalities and cultures

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    I loved this book

    Beautifully written.

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  • Posted February 16, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Good Historical Novel - for those interested in early slavery

    While I'm 3/4 of the way through this book, I find it most interesting in looking back at the slave trade and the early settling of Florida. The characters are somewhat dark, but they seem to work well with the subject and the reality of those days. Life was harsh and conditions for black slaves were abominable. It breaks your heart as you feel the plight of black slaves and the emotional pain of leaving their entire life and loved ones behind for a life (if they survived) of being less than a dog. If you like history I highly suggest this. While I can't say it's exciting, I have already purchased the next book in the series to see where it goes. It does have a way of taking you in with its characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2012

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    Posted April 23, 2012

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    Posted July 17, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2009

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    Posted June 21, 2012

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