Thursday, October 19, 2006

[Book Review] FRAGMENTS OF THE ARK by Louise Meriwether

Fiction/African-American Historical

Darletha Matthews reviews FRAGMENTS OF THE ARK by Louise Meriwether (Pocket Books, 1994):

There is a recent motion picture in which treasure hunters search for an iron-clad battleship that disappeared during the Civil War. I was familiar with Civil War conflicts on land, but not of any that occurred on water. I found a novel that depicts this fascinating time in American history through the eyes of African-Americans.

In Fragments of the Ark, Peter Mango is a slave pilot on a Confederate naval ship stationed in South Carolina. He and other slave crew members grow impatient with the Union’s attempts to seize Charleston. The slave crew steals the best ship of the Confederate fleet and escapes to freedom with their families. This novel follows the aftermath of this daring escape. Mango gains notoriety and promotions within the Union navy but respect as a free man remains a struggle. All of the characters strive to create stable lives in an unstable world, as the lingering threat of being kidnapped back into slavery remains near.

This story is inspired by the real life escape to freedom of Confederate pilot Robert Smalls. This intriguing story gives the reader a glimpse into the social and political complexities created by the turbulent world of the Civil War. Mango and other African-American characters deal with emotionally complex issues within themselves and with their families. Meriwether also characterizes real historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Robert Gould Shaw. I recommend this novel to historical fiction fans who enjoy well-developed characters and a compelling, detailed plot.

Darletha Matthews, South Branch Library

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