The Family Mansion
by Anthony C. Winkler
published by Akaschic Books
I received this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.
The Family Mansion tells the story of Hartley Fudges, whose personal destiny unfolds against the backdrop of nineteenth-century British culture, a time when English society was based upon the strictest subordination and stratification of the classes. Hartley’s decision to migrate to Jamaica at the age of twenty-three seems sensible at first: in the early 1800s Jamaica was far and away the richest and most opulent of all the crown colonies. But for all its fabulous wealth, Jamaica was a difficult and inhospitable place for an immigrant.
The complex saga of Hartley’s life is revealed in vivid scenes that depict the vicissitudes of ninteenth-century English and Jamaican societies. Aside from violent slave revolts, newcomers had to survive the nemesis of the white man in the tropics—namely, yellow fever. With Hartley’s point of view as its primary focus, the narrative transports readers to exotic lands, simultaneously exploring the brutality of England’s slavery-based colonization. (from Goodreads)
We first meet Hartley Fudges, the main character, in England, where he bemoans his bad luck at being the second (and non inheriting) son of a wealthy aristocrat. Since he will not inherit anything from his father due to England’s primogeniture laws, his options for the future are limited-marry for wealth, join the clergy, or head to the colonies to make a living. After some very bad choices, Hartley does head out – to work at a sugar plantation in Jamaica. Once there, he immediately falls ill with Yellow Fever, which he barely survives. After his recuperation, Hartley works as a backra, one of six white men who run the plantation under the manager.
Mr. Winkler has written an amusing, at times satirical novel, while touching on important historical aspects, such as human rights, slavery, and colonization. There were times I felt it was almost too funny, but I never lost interest in the story. I especially enjoyed the way the author described Hartley’s surroundings-
“London in 1805 was a crowded, dirty city exploding with industry and people. The streets were jammed with horse-drawn carriages, and the pedestrians swarming everywhere had the pallor and bustling, scurrying energy of constant motion that might be found in a population of hungry marsupials. Everywhere the eye looked it beheld smokestacks, grimy working men, sidewalk butchers, shrieking hankerers, and peddlers against a backdrop of persistent staccato hoof beats made by overworked horses harnessed to carriages, hackney cabs, and drays.”
I would recommend this book, especially to those who enjoy historical fiction. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more from this author.
Rating- 4 out of 5
Anthony C. Winkler was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1942 and is widely recognized as one of the island’s finest exports. His novels includeThe Lunatic (1987; adapted into a feature film), The Duppy (1997), Dog War (2007), and God Carlos (2012). He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.