Synopses & Reviews
PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD FINALIST
A fiercely poetic literary debut re-creating the life of an 19th-century slave woman in South Africa.
Slavery as it existed in Africa has seldom been portrayed—and never with such texture, detail, and authentic emotion. Inspired by actual 19th-century court records, Unconfessed is a breathtaking literary tour de force. They called her Sila van den Kaap, slave woman of Jacobus Stephanus Van der Wat of Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. A woman moved from master to master, farm to farm, and—driven by the horrors of slavery to commit an unspeakable crime—from prison to prison. A woman fit for hanging . . . condemned to death on April 30, 1823, but whose sentence the English, having recently wrested authority from the Dutch settlers, saw fit to commute to a lengthy term on the notorious Robben Island.
Sila spends her days in the prison quarry, breaking stones for Cape Town's streets and walls. She remembers the day her childhood ended, when slave catchers came — whipping the air and the ground and we were like deer whipped into the smaller and smaller circle of our fear. Sila remembers her masters, especially Oumiesies ("old Missus"), who in her will granted Sila her freedom, but Theron, Oumiesies' vicious and mercenary son, destroys the will and with it Sila's life. Sila remembers her children, with joy and with pain, and imagines herself a great bird that could sweep them up in her wings and set them safely on a branch above all harm. Unconfessed is an epic novel that connects the reader to the unimaginable through the force of poetry and a far-reaching imagination.
A 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award finalist: "Impossible to put down, this work deserves a place beside such classics as Toni Morrison's Beloved and Edward P. Jones's The Known World."Library Journal (starred review)
Slavery as it existed in Africa has seldom been portrayedand never with such texture, detail, and authentic emotion. Inspired by actual 19th-century court records, Unconfessed is a breathtaking literary tour de force.
They called her Sila van den Kaap, slave of Jacobus Stephanus Van der Wat of Plettenberg Bay, in the colony of South Africa. They called her murderer, and demanded that she explain her terrible violence. A woman fit for hanging...condemned to death on April 30, 1823, only to have her sentence commuted to a lengthy term on the notorious Robben Island.
Sila spends her days in the prison quarry, breaking stones for Cape Town's streets or cleaning the Warden's house. Her fierce, sometimes tender voice recalls the dramatic events of her lifeas well as its small, precious moments and pleasures. Unconfessed is an epic novel that connects the reader to the unimaginable through the force of poetry and a far-reaching imagination. Reading group guide included inside this edition.
This fiercely poetic literary debut re-creates the life of an 18th-century slave woman in South Africa. With extraordinary detail and authentic emotion, Christianse connects the reader to the unimaginable.
About the Author
Yvette Christianse was born in South Africa under apartheid and emigrated with her family via Swaziland to Australia at the age of eighteen. She is the author of the 1999 poetry collection Castaway. She teaches English and postcolonial studies at Fordham University and lives in New York City. Unconfessed, her first novel, was honored as a 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award finalist.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why do you think the author chose to shift from third person to first person narrative? What does this shift achieve?
2. Do you have any mental image of Sila? What kinds of detail emerge from her deeply introspective voice?
3. Do you have any mental images of the places that Sila lived in? Are there any small details help create these images in the absence of the kind of description that third person narrative would provide?
4. Can we trust Silas account of everything? Or are there moments when we believe her and moments when we doubt her?
5. What do you think Sila keeps secret, and why?
6. What does Sila say to her friend Lys that she does not say to her son, Baro?
7. What kinds of things does Sila say to Johannes that she does not say to Lys or Baro?
8. Why do you think Sila says nothing about the father or fathers of her children? Does it matter that she says nothing about them? Or are there clues as to who he/they might be?
9. Is Silas life ever open to something other than grief and rage?
10. What kind of humor does Sila have?
11. How and when does the tone and style of Silas language change?
12. Does Silas story make you want to know more about this moment in South Africas early history, and about slavery?
13. Do you perceive any differences between what you know of slavery in, say, the Americas, and the world that unfolds in Silas story?
14. Why would we be interested in yet another slave story? What does this book have to say that is different?