“I say, life is a disease women get from men.” Readers of Unconfessed will understand Sila Van den Kapp’s misandry. She is a slave in early 19th century Cape Colony, enduring the vagaries of a sequence of white owners. Beaten until she loses much of her hearing. Forced to lie with masters, and later, prison guards, and have children by them. Promised freedom for both her and her children, only to have it reneged by masters unwilling to be hurt in the pocket. Sila is driven to such an extreme that she is accused of child murder, which she refuses to acknowledge (hence the title). The court condemns her to death, but because she is pregnant, she is instead sentenced to a 14-year term on the notorious Robben Island. To take her mind off the horrible living conditions, bad food, and hard labor, she speaks to her lost son Baro’s spirit, telling him the story of her life.
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.