No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, May 20, 2005

#44: White Gold -- Giles Milton

Milton's previous books -- Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Samurai William etc -- show his gift for exploring an historical event or situation by focussing on an individual. Here, it's Thomas Pellow, who in 1716, at the age of 11, was captured by Barbary corsairs. Enslaved, he was abused and tortured until he converted to Islam: this freed him from the daily drudgery experienced by the thousands of Christian slaves imprisoned by the sultan Moulay Ismail. Instead, he ascended a rickety and perilous ladder of promotion -- harem guard, military commander, slave-trader -- and lived as well as an English renegade could; he married a Moorish woman and had a child by her, and was esteemed by those he served. He never settled to the life. After several escape attempts, he made it back to England in 1738.

Milton intersperses episodes from Pellow's life with more general discussion of the white slave trade, the court politics of Morocco, and the dithering of the British government. There's a splendid epilogue which tells the tale of Pellow's relative, Sir Edward Pellew, who led the bombardment of Algiers in 1816 and succeeded in stopping the corsairs preying on European ships. Milton's also at pains to remind the reader that the trade in black slaves was viewed quite differently, even by Pellow himself and certainly by most Europeans.

It's a well-written and well-researched, though occasionally repetitious, book: recommended for anyone who enjoys first-hand historical accounts without wishing to wade through the originals.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

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