Unconfessed

Overview

PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD FINALIST

A fiercely poetic literary debut re-creating the life of an 19th-century slave woman in South Africa.

Slavery as it existed in Africa has seldom been portrayed—and never with such texture, detail, and authentic emotion. Inspired by actual 19th-century court records, Unconfessed is a breathtaking literary tour de force. They called her Sila van den Kaap, slave woman of Jacobus Stephanus Van der Wat of Plettenberg ...

See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (2) from $14.95   
  • Used (2) from $14.95   
Close
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any BN.com coupons and promotions
$14.95
Seller since 2005

Feedback rating:

(18)

Condition:

New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

Very Good
South Africa 2007 Hardcover Very Good. No Jacket 8vo-over 7?"-9?" tall 2007, Kwela, South Africa. First South African Large softcover. 350 pahes. Mild wear to covers. clean, ... unmarked inside. One page corner folded. Read more Show Less

Ships from: Grand Rapids, MI

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$28.49
Seller since 2006

Feedback rating:

(59822)

Condition: Very Good
Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. 100% Money Back Guarantee. Shipped to over one million happy customers. Your purchase benefits world literacy!

Ships from: Mishawaka, IN

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Close
Sort by
Sending request ...

Overview

PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD FINALIST

A fiercely poetic literary debut re-creating the life of an 19th-century slave woman in South Africa.

Slavery as it existed in Africa has seldom been portrayed—and never with such texture, detail, and authentic emotion. Inspired by actual 19th-century court records, Unconfessed is a breathtaking literary tour de force. They called her Sila van den Kaap, slave woman of Jacobus Stephanus Van der Wat of Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. A woman moved from master to master, farm to farm, and—driven by the horrors of slavery to commit an unspeakable crime—from prison to prison. A woman fit for hanging . . . condemned to death on April 30, 1823, but whose sentence the English, having recently wrested authority from the Dutch settlers, saw fit to commute to a lengthy term on the notorious Robben Island.

Sila spends her days in the prison quarry, breaking stones for Cape Town's streets and walls. She remembers the day her childhood ended, when slave catchers came — whipping the air and the ground and we were like deer whipped into the smaller and smaller circle of our fear. Sila remembers her masters, especially Oumiesies ("old Missus"), who in her will granted Sila her freedom, but Theron, Oumiesies' vicious and mercenary son, destroys the will and with it Sila's life. Sila remembers her children, with joy and with pain, and imagines herself a great bird that could sweep them up in her wings and set them safely on a branch above all harm. Unconfessed is an epic novel that connects the reader to the unimaginable through the force of poetry and a far-reaching imagination.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Uzodinma Iweala
Most writing about South Africa's disturbing racial history focuses on the relatively modern phenomenon of apartheid and the gross injustices inflicted on the black majority by the descendants of Dutch and British settlers. But precious little contemporary literature addresses the precursor to apartheid, the Dutch and British race-based system that relied on the forced labor of a steady supply of black Africans, both local and imported from other colonial possessions.

Yvette Christianse's first novel, Unconfessed, is an important book precisely because it helps fill this literary void. Addressing the circumstances surrounding one of the most disturbing crimes of the colonial period, it recreates the tormented world of a real historical figure…Christianse is able to create an enveloping air of mystery in her slow revelations of the specific nature of Sila's crime and punishment. This mastery of suspenseful plotting shows in both the present action and the flashbacks, even if the language that stitches them together can prove a bit weak.
—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly
Poet Christianse (Castaway), born in apartheid-era South Africa and now living in New York City, channels the torturous history of South African slavery in her debut novel. Sila van den Kaap, whom Christianse discovered in an early 19th century document, is a slave serving hard labor at the Robben Island prison colony after murdering her own son, Baro. As Sila breaks and hauls stones, evades the attentions of the prison guards and cares for her small children, she casts her mind back to the daily indignities, fleeting pleasures and larger injustices that have defined her life since, as a young girl, she was brought to South Africa from Mozambique. Addressed primarily to the spirit of her deceased son, Sila's absorbing, lyrical narrative is circular: she alternates between exhausted lament, seething rage and scripture-tinged poetic soliloquy ("their sins are like unto a plague of locusts that eat not fields but bodies and hearts"), and returns repeatedly to the broken promise of her freedom, granted in the will of one of her mistresses, Oumiesies ("old Missus"), and disregarded by Oumiesies's cruel son, Theron. After many passionate digressions, Sila alights, finally, on the death of Baro. In the final pages, she movingly addresses "the daughters and sons of my generations"-those now living with slavery's legacy. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sila van den Kaap doesn't recall much about her childhood, but one thing is clear: as a young girl, she was taken from her family in Mozambique and sold to Dutch settlers in the Cape Colony of South Africa. Her first owner, a minister named Neethling, eventually drank himself to death. Other masters and mistresses followed, including one, Oumiesies ("Old Missus"), who promised Sila that upon her death she and her children would be free. Sadly, Oumiesies's son destroyed his mother's will, compelling Sila to remain in bondage. When we meet her, she is on Robben Island, imprisoned for strangling one of her children. The story unfolds in fits and starts and reads like a confession to a soulmate. This stream-of-consciousness style gives readers an intimate if disturbing peek into the mind of a fierce 19th-century slave woman. Herself born in South African, Christians , author of the poetry collection Castaway, based her novel on archival records; that someone with the protagonist's name was actually tried for murdering her child gives the narrative added heft and poignancy. Impossible to put down, this work deserves a place beside such classics as Toni Morrison's Beloved and Edward P. Jones's The Known World. Highly recommended.-Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Based on actual court records, the story of a South African slave who was sentenced to death for murdering her son 50 years before the American Civil War. Sila was so young when she was kidnapped from her village and sold into slavery that she doesn't know what part of Africa she came from. Shipped to the Cape Colony, Sila was sold to Oumiesies (the Old Missus), who, after many years, granted Sila's freedom in her will. Oumiesies's son Theron defied his mother after her death, denying Sila her emancipation. Instead, she became the property of Van der Wat, a sadist whom Sila, now a grown woman with several children, calls the pig of Plettenberg Bay. Van der Wat beats his slaves, sells off their children and rapes others. Able to bear any cruelty except that done to her offspring, Sila stands up to him. Subsequently, she is charged with the murder of her son and sentenced to death. Only the discovery that Sila is pregnant saves her from hanging. The authorities transport her to Robben Island (where, 150 years later, Nelson Mandela would serve an 18-year sentence). Through days of hard labor-she and the other prisoners, mostly men, break rocks in a quarry-and nights of repeated rape by the guards, Sila remains defiant. She prays that her petition for freedom will reach the English King across the ocean and finds solace and communion in long conversations she conducts with her vision of Baro, the son she set free. South African-born Christianse captures not only the breadth and complexity of Sila, a heroine for the ages, but also the moral crisis and political turmoil of 19th-century South Africa. Her masters are not all evil. Nor is Sila, as she herself admits, all good. A gorgeous,devastating song of freedom that will inevitably be compared to Toni Morrison's Beloved. But it deserves to stand on its own.
From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews STARRED REVIEW

A gorgeous, devastating song of freedom that will inevitably be compared to Toni Morrison’s Beloved. But it deserves to stand on its own.

Publishers Weekly

Poet Christiansë (Castaway), born in apartheid-era South Africa and now living in New York City, channels the torturous history of South African slavery in her debut novel. Sila van den Kaap, whom Christiansë discovered in an early 19th century document, is a slave serving hard labor at the Robben Island prison colony after murdering her own son, Baro. As Sila breaks and hauls stones, evades the attentions of the prison guards and cares for her small children, she casts her mind back to the daily indignities, fleeting pleasures and larger injustices that have defined her life since, as a young girl, she was brought to South Africa from Mozambique. Addressed primarily to the spirit of her deceased son, Sila's absorbing, lyrical narrative is circular: she alternates between exhausted lament, seething rage and scripture-tinged poetic soliloquy ("their sins are like unto a plague of locusts that eat not fields but bodies and hearts"), and returns repeatedly to the broken promise of her freedom, granted in the will of one of her mistresses, Oumiesies ("old Missus"), and disregarded by Oumiesies's cruel son, Theron. After many passionate digressions, Sila alights, finally, on the death of Baro. In the final pages, she movingly addresses "the daughters and sons of my generations"—those now living with slavery's legacy.

Library Journal STARRED REVIEW

The story unfolds in fits and starts and reads like a confession to a soulmate. This stream-of-consciousness style gives readers an intimate if disturbing peek into the mind of a fierce 19th-century slave woman...Impossible to put down, this work deserves a place beside such classics as Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Edward P. Jones’s The Known World. Highly recommended.

ForeWord This Week

...Unconfessed by Yvette Christiansë takes place in South Africa in the Dutch-speaking Cape Colony in the 1820s. Sila was taken from Mozambique to South Africa as a child. She was promised freedom in the will of her mistress Oumiesies. But at her death, her cruel son Theron refuses to honor his mother’s wishes.

Sila is sold to a series of cruel masters and is eventually imprisoned for murdering her son, Baro. As she works in the rock quarry on Robben Island prison, she speaks to Baro, telling him her disjointed life story and the details of her days in the prison. Gradually through Christiansë’s poetic stream-of-consciousness narrative, the reader learns how she came to be in her situation and the guilt she feels at the thought of her children’s suffering.

Booklist

Little has been written about what it was like to be a slave in South Africa under the early white settlers. This debut novel tells it through the first-person, present-tense narrative of Sila, once a slave, now a prisoner on Robben Island off Cape Town in the 1820s....the history is authentic, and Sila's brave, desperate voice reveals the vicious brutality as well as surprising discoveries of love and friendship. Readers of Toni Morrison's classic Beloved will recognize the story of a mother driven to save her children at any cost.

Historic Novels Review

Sila is a strong, likable character who survives adversities that would destroy most people. She has a few happy times to remember, but of course the tone of any book about slavery is mainly distressing. Readers who prefer a linear storyline may struggle to puzzle out the sequence of events, as Sila’s memories come and go in a poetic, stream-of-consciousness fashion. Christiansë’s word choice and syntax effectively convey that Sila is not an English speaker, without distracting the reader.

Slavery in the United States has often been chronicled in historical fiction. Books about African slavery of the same period are much less common, and I appreciated being enlightened about slavery from a new perspective.

People

Born under apartheid, South African poet Christiansë (Castaway) dug up a horrific real-life crime in her homeland and used it as the basis for this breathtaking novel. Condemned in 1823 to a notorious African prison colony called Robben Island for the murder of her son, slave Sila van den Kaap refuses to explain her actions. Instead, in rich, lyrical prose, the captive unveils the terrible truth of her life to the spirit of her dead child. Defiant, loving and fierce, van den Kaap recalls her years in bondage and how the brutality she and her family suffered and the lies they were forced to accept particularly one promising her freedom eventually shattered them. Christiansë's novel isn't just a stunningly intimate, heart-wrenching history of slave life in Africa. Her protagonist's furious yearning for freedom ("Wishes are sometimes just stories that have nowhere to go") becomes a haunting meditation on love, loss and the stories we choose to tell in order to survive. Gorgeous and tragic, Unconfessed ultimately reveals a confession almost too terrible to bear and impossible to forget.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It's a compelling story and a remarkable book...Even at the novel's conclusion, as Sila's memories become more clear, the circumstances of how her son died are still equivocal. That makes the novel even more compelling; Sila's story is far more powerful than abstractions like guilt vs. innocence or even slavery vs. freedom.

Curled Up with a Good Book

Unconfessed
is Sila's story, the tale of one woman's pain and suffering. It is the story of a mother's love, of desperation, and the cruelty of slavery. Yvette Christiansë's haunting tale pierces the heart in this powerful novel about a broken and angry woman hanging on by a thread. However wounded, Sila is undeniably a strong woman.

Having been born and raised in South Africa during apartheid, the author is close to the history she writes about in Unconfessed. The novel is almost poetic; the writing is style lyrical at times and full of symbolism. Although as the novel goes on, the narrative becomes slightly disorganized, it fits well with the story and the direction that the main character is going. She brings her characters, particularly Sila to life — her anger and despair bleed from every page.

New York Times Book Review, Uzodinma Iweala
...Christiansë is able to create an enveloping air of mystery in her slow revelations of the specific nature of Sila's crime and punishment. This mastery of suspenseful plotting shows in both the present action and the flashbacks...The pages of Unconfessed are full of powerful images of an institution capable of engendering horrendous evil; yet it is one that cannot entirely defeat hope and love.

Ms. Magazine

"[A] beautifully written historical novel."

Ebony Magazine

In Unconfessed, first-time novelist Yvette Christiansë tells the story of Sila van den Kaap, a South African slave who was sentenced to death on April 30, 1823, following the chilling murder of her son. Based on a true story, with information culled from actual court documents dating back to the 19th century, readers are introduced to Kaap, whose death sentence is commuted. She is serving out a lengthy sentence on Robben Island, the notorious South African prison island, the primary setting of the novel. But much of the evocative novel is spun from the protagonist's memory, which reveals the sad and powerful story of the life of a slave woman in the South African outback in the early 1800s. Christiansë, an associate professor at Fordham University in New York City and a scholar in African-American literature and postcolonial studies, was raised in South Africa under apartheid and moved to Australia when she was 18.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780795702587
  • Publisher: Kwela Books
  • Publication date: 10/1/2010

Meet the Author

Yvette Christianse

Yvette Christianse was born in South Africa under apartheid and emigrated with her family via Swaziland to Australia at the age of eighteen. She is the author of the 1999 poetry collection Castaway. She teaches English and postcolonial studies at Fordham University and lives in New York City. Unconfessed, her first novel, was honored as a 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award finalist.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Unconfessed


By YVETTE CHRISTIANSË

Other Press

Copyright © 2006 Yvette Christiansë
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-59051-240-5


Chapter One

He stood just in the entrance of the cell, a tall man with his hat in his hands. She could make out the cream of his necktie. She knew why he had come. She waited and could see him struggle with irritation and uncertainty as she remained seated on the bed. The smell had assailed his nostrils when he first entered, but now he could smell the bed. She let it reach him and relished the satisfaction of seeing his small step backward.

She knew about him. The very famous new superintendent about whom everyone talked. Once, when she was out in the yard, he had come clattering to visit the warden. She had been invisible except as one of those people he had been so good at keeping obedient. He looked at her now as if she were a fool. She said nothing.

"What is that stench?" He did not ask this of her.

"Sanitation is a problem, Excellency."

He turned abruptly to face the guard who remained invisible on the other side of the doorframe.

"What the hell does that mean, man?"

He asked for meaning. She felt the laughter bubble up in her throat.

"The warden will explain, Excellency, when he comes back, Excellency."

Sila could hear the guard shifting from foot to foot.

"Has she been here all this time?"

"Excellency? Yes. Warden will explain, Excellency. We have nowhere else ... this is why we put her and her child here with the other ..."

"Child? What child?"

She understood his surprise. How on earth could she have been here all this time, under their noses, and not be noticed, she and her child, the one she called Meisie despite the name they wanted her to use? How could they have forgotten about her, forgotten? But he could not bring himself to ask these questions, they would have exposed his ignorance, and a great superintendent of order could never admit to such a thing.

For a moment the walls spun. The sour damp straw of her bed reached her nostrils. Her move to grip the wall made him turn.

"What have you to say for yourself?" he demanded, but she could see it was to stave off his alarm. "Ek se, wat bet jy vir jouself te sê?"

His accent was so stupid. She lay back and laughed, drawing her skirt up. This was how they liked it, filthy and stinking. He should know that, superintendent of cleanliness and order. The naai maintje was here. Yes, he should know who and what this place had made of her in all these years she had been forgotten.

"Sit up! Sit up!"

She disobeyed.

"Can you confirm that you are Sila van den Kaap, slave to the burgher Jacobus Stephanus Van der Wat?"

Slave? Who was he calling slave? She sat up and pulled her dress into place.

"Are you the woman who came from Van der Wat?"

"From Van der Wat, yes." Something old and cold, heavy and dull was pushing her heart down.

"What child is with you? Is this one of your children that came with you from Van der Wat's farm?"

"Meisie. She was born here."

The superintendent's mouth opened. He looked around the cell, then turned toward the door.

The guard's silhouette vanished with a jump. "She is a very bad woman, Excellency!"

She had no energy to deny this. She was a prisoner in the country of lies. Truth was a foreign language here. She rested her head back against the wall and inhaled. Soon she would be done with it all. Not even the thought of Meisie, or Pieter who was still on Van der Wat's farm, could keep her in this world. The demons of this world had swallowed up her children as they had swallowed so many before them.

"I am Sila who was taken from Cape Town to Van der Wat."

"You were sold to him?"

Sold? Sold? That old pain made her cough. Her throat was closing up as if a rope had at last been placed around it. She thought of a freedom so close, a freedom stolen.

"Where is your child?"

"They put her outside with the other women when they heard you were coming."

"Excellency? It's so that Excellency can talk with the prisoner."

The superintendent was talking to her again. Something in his voice made her look closely at him. Before he had only been a tall man with black, black hair, black eyebrows, no beard, black clothes. Now she heard something in his voice. He was speaking to her, asking questions that were not orders or commands that had all the answers already. These questions said, "There are things I need to know. Can you help?"

"Help me, Master!"

When he left, so quickly she thought she had dreamed the whole visit, it was hard to stop the room's spinning. This time would be different from all the other times, all the other visitors. She knew the guard was aware of this because he did not come back. There would be no quick counting of coins, or the rough laugh he gave as the visitor ran to wash himself. The shadow of death had come into her life once again and announced that, for the final time, she had run out of all luck.

And what a lucky girl she had been as a girl. All those years ago, in a place these people knew nothing about, she had been the luckiest girl. Now she was locked between walls in a country where real murderers walked free with the right to real buttons, and fancy dresses, and cream neckties, waistcoats on Sundays.

Sometimes she imagined that swine Van der Wat and his family pronking off to prayers at a neighbor's farm with their pious stout faces served up on the platter of their holy words like vet little piglets snorting in the Lord's trough. Sometimes she imagined them sitting before a visiting minister and scratching themselves as fleas nibbled and scuttered away under their woolens and muslins.

"There is a valley far, far away," they sang, swaying and swaying away as one with the rest of the congregation, while secretly trying to shift against their clothing for the tiniest bit of relief. The hymn ended and they had to sit, Van der Wat so stiff and righteous in daylight and public, beside his fish-belly wife, and their greedy children.

For a whole day no one came near her. The next day, she was not allowed out of her cell. When the other women left for the yard they jeered and laughed at her, every one of them but Rachel, who came back with one of the younger guards to offer to take Meisie out on her back.

While they were binding Meisie to Rachel's back, Sila spoke quickly.

"I do not know when they will come for me. You must get news to my friend Spaasie. Tell her she must fight to keep them from sending Meisie to Van der Wat."

"Have courage, Sila."

"Courage is one thing, Rachel. The law here is another."

Sila kissed the top of Meisie's head.

"Kom!" The young guard was jumping from foot to foot.

After that, no one came. Once, through the dull plug of her damaged ear, she thought she heard Meisie cry. She called out. Nothing. She sensed the guards. There was a new urgency in their lowered voices. Sometimes someone passed by the bars set high in the door, but she did not bother to look. She kept her face to the wall. Very little time remained now. Although it was not as if she were losing a life she had. A long time ago she would have thought that any life was worth living, that she had to hold on to the tiniest amount of living and find in it the same sweetness that she found in a simple flower growing on a grens or even in a crack at the doorstep to the big house into which she had first been taken as a meid, just a child who should have been with her own mother. But this could not be called a life. For three years she had been on the path to death. Now she was standing on death's doorstep.

Or was she passing into life? She had yet to be born. If she could pray, she would sing to a god that kind of song babies sing when they begin coming, coming, pushing into the world, a song very few understand for they hear it as the cry of anguish, not the music of prayers from the other world where there is light and joy and freedom.

Very little time remained. She could tell. It was not of any concern how they would come when they did. She had died so many times. The only surprise would be the sense of familiarity: "Ah, this way," she would think as they tied a bag around her head and threw her into the sea, or when they strangled her as they did that other woman, Hester. Let them throw her in. She would rock like her own baby. If only there was a song she could sing.

"Sing along, Sila. You never sing with us."

She looked across the green light to where Spaasie was clapping and stomping her feet. Everyone else was gathering in front of the huts. The big house was all tucked away in their kerk klere and already halfway to their encounter with their god in that smelly old church across the valley. To a man and woman, they all hated the master. His mother, Hendrina Jansen, separated wife of Petrus Theron, deceased, and mother of Theron the liar and thief, was a different matter. Oumiesies was the one who held everything in those thin little hands of hers. Mean as a poff-adder when she wanted to be, and hard in business and money, but afraid of dying and meeting her maker, so she was always looking over both shoulders.

She kept an eye on that son of hers. He knew, she knew, everyone knew that he would be no real master until she was gone. Everyone knew she watched him and felt, each day, his breathing close to the thinnest part of her neck. She also kept an eye out for the first sign of a vengeful angel come to ask the whys and whats of a ledger keeper. Oumiesies took precautions in this world to make sure she would be properly received in the next, and so her people, as she called all for whom she had paid rix dollars, could be guaranteed a half-day on Sunday, enough food, moments that felt like kindness. Her people did not mind her, though they kept one eye on her and the other on the son, and sometimes they watched his wife who could not keep her eyes from her mother-in-law's china or rings. And sometimes they watched the son's children who clunked about in big shoes and wanted this and that with no concern for the trouble they caused.

"Sing, Sila, sing. Nooi, nooi die riet kooi nooi, die riet kooi is gemaak."

The world would not keep still today. The new superintendent of police had asked if she was the woman who had come from Van der Wat's farm. He knew nothing. That was the way this world worked. The superintendent would learn. The guards said he came to the Cape to fix up prisons because that kgosi, the king of the English, was pleased to send him. The guards and the field cornets, the police, the landdrosts, the court clerks, the fiscal, the judges, everyone was going to teach him, this man, just how things were done here. She knew this, and she knew that what she had seen when he stood inside her cell was the first sign of a thread working its way loose around a button. Yes. They would try to undo the very secrets of life that held this man together.

Yes, she knew enough of the world to know what would become of this man. And it was useless worrying about him. She had her own worries. What could happen to him? His cuffs would fray. His buttons would fall, roll away, and be lost. His sharp blue eyes-hidden by the darkness of her cell, but clear in her mind from her first sighting of him-would cloud with anger, confusion, disappointment, defeat, and he would sail back to his king's land and disappear.

What did he know? She should have told him of the people he would be dealing with. She would tell him the truth about how she came to be on Van der Wat's farm. She would tell him that Theron was a liar and thief. And Van der Wat was filth. She should have said neither Van der Wat nor Theron was her master. Not that she had not lived the life of a slave, for there had been masters and there had been mistresses. First, when they brought her here as a child, there had been old Minister Neethling and his wife. Then Oumiesies, Hendrina Jansen. And then Theron who ...

She had to get up, move about the cell because those "What if" and "If only" thoughts were coming fast and strong and she needed to swat them away. She marched on the spot-one-two, one-two, arms jerking up-down, bent at the elbows.

When they first brought her out of that dark and rolling world that made her so sick, she was just a child and she had gone to people who were not bad, just stupid. She knew now how much pain and sorrow stupid people brought to others. Minister Neethling and his wife were stupid. And she had been a child stolen from her own mother and pushed into a hole with others only to be pushed out into this world.

"Sing, Sila, sing. Nooi, nooi ..."

She longed for other songs.

But the world was breaking up and all the old places were coming through the holes. First there was Neethling's farm. And she, just a child. Then Oumiesies' farm. She could see it rise up and there she was, her own self, standing still while others danced. She knew that younger self.

"You are without joy today, Sila," that gray-haired old Johannes van Bengal said as she twisted away from the dance Anthony was trying to pull her toward. Johannes could talk. They had brought him fresh from Java to Oumiesies when she was still married and he was young and puffed up with the chest of a cock, so Spaasie said. Johannes did not like the place they brought him to so he tried to run away with Barend van Bengal and a whole pack of others from that Java place. The punishment was heavy. You could still see where the sjambok had tenderized him. He laughed about it now and teased her about the old rhino that had made many paths across his back.

"Nee, man, Johannes. They took that hide from old rhino to turn you into an ox. You look there, they use it only to make the ox move faster."

"Sila, meisie, then rhino and me has got an understanding. I go at my pace, he goes at his and together we make a dance called sjambok-wins-everytime-for-Master."

Johannes made her laugh. Of all the men, he alone had not tried his luck with her. A little squeeze, a little pat, and she was supposed to be grateful and just lie down for them as if she were one of those women who had to, there in the Dutch Company's Lodge. Long before she came to this land she had been meant for other things.

"You must get ready."

Sila looked at the guard when he finally appeared. He was making an iron gate of his heart. Never mind, the smell was there to help him with that. They kept her like this because it helped them sleep at night.

"Do you want a priest?"

She was still a little girl when she came out of the demon's belly and found herself with the Neethlings. Those days Minister Neethling was still preaching and she had to wait outside of the church with all the other slaves while he called upon his god and waved his fist and pointed his finger. Otherwise Missus Neethling kept her at her side as if she were a toy dog. And then the minister offended his parishioners because he refused to pray over the condemned. They called him unholy and said that Christ had ministered to the fallen. The parishioners began to stay away. He lost his church and then, after the drinking began, he lost the farm that had come as part of the Missus's dowry.

"It is repugnant unto the Lord insomuch as any mere mortal could imagine the ways of the Lord's mind. 'Vengeance is mine' sayeth the Lord."

Young as she was and new to another terror brought to life through the minister's drunkeness, Sila listened to the talk in the kitchen as she helped polish silver, or fetched or carried, or sewed. She listened at night when the day's work was done and the older people talked around the communal fire in front of their huts while the big house sank into itself with a full stomach. The question they asked became hers. What was to become of them all? The answer came quickly. The first to be sold away was a woman named Saartje. The next was a man named Klaas. Child though she was, she felt the world tilt again and feared being plunged into yet another dark heat. She heard Missus Neethling speak of her own fears to the woman that all the children had to call Ma.

"I may come to curse my own husband. He has cast us upon the mercy of unkind people. What is to become of us all?"

When Missus Neethling cried a long aw-aw-aw as if she were one of the farm girls, the woman Sila called Ma cried too.

"What of these children? What of my children?"

"I will never let him sell them, or you."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Unconfessed by YVETTE CHRISTIANSË Copyright © 2006 by Yvette Christiansë. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think the author chose to shift from third person to first person narrative? What does this shift achieve?

2. Do you have any mental image of Sila? What kinds of detail emerge from her deeply introspective voice?

3. Do you have any mental images of the places that Sila lived in? Are there any small details help create these images in the absence of the kind of description that third person narrative would provide?

4. Can we trust Sila’s account of everything? Or are there moments when we believe her and moments when we doubt her?

5. What do you think Sila keeps secret, and why?

6. What does Sila say to her friend Lys that she does not say to her son, Baro?

7. What kinds of things does Sila say to Johannes that she does not say to Lys or Baro?

8. Why do you think Sila says nothing about the father or fathers of her children? Does it matter that she says nothing about them? Or are there clues as to who he/they might be?

9. Is Sila’s life ever open to something other than grief and rage?

10. What kind of humor does Sila have?

11. How and when does the tone and style of Sila’s language change?

12. Does Sila’s story make you want to know more about this moment in South Africa’s early history, and about slavery?

13. Do you perceive any differences between what you know of slavery in, say, the Americas, and the world that unfolds in Sila’s story?

14. Why would we be interested in yet another slave story? What does this book have to say that is different?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)