The Walls of Cartagena
Set in 1639 during the pivotal year between the narrator’s 13th and 14th birthdays, this is an adventure tale bursting with heart and deep soulfulness. Calepino first opens his eyes on a slave ship. His Angolan mother dies after the birth. Good fortune intervenes when he’s taken in by a wealthy, pious woman in the walled city of Cartagena, in what is now Colombia. Although a slave, he’s treated with great tenderness and grows into a young man of quick wit who is especially adept at languages.
Father Pedro asks the pampered Calepino to assist his ministry as an interpreter on the newly arrived slave ships. At first the young man hates his duties, as they take him into a world of suffering and squalor he had hoped he’d forever left behind. Then he meets Mara and Tomi, who remind him of his own past. When their lives are put in peril by a cruel master, Calepino determines to help them achieve freedom, even if it puts his own life, and that of a new mentor, a mysterious doctor of a leper colony, at terrible risk.
Calepino is a fully realized character, as are his friends and enemies, people he cannot always tell apart. Fast-paced and richly detailed in setting and characterization, this young man’s journey to manhood sings off the page. A gem. Highly recommended.