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Master of the Crossroads

Bell, Madison Smartt

165 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0142000035 / ISBN 13: 9780142000038
Published by Penguin Books, 2001
Used Condition: Good
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Bibliographic Details

Title: Master of the Crossroads

Publisher: Penguin Books

Publication Date: 2001

Book Condition:Good

Edition: Reprint.

About this title


"Powerful, horrifying, and impressive. . . . No single work published in the last year matches the historical authority and gravitas of Bell's richly rewarding historical novel." (The Boston Globe)

When volume one of Madison Smartt Bell's trilogy, All Souls' Rising, was published in 1995, it was hailed as "one of the year's most substantial literary accomplishments" (The New York Times). Chronicling the beginning of the Haitian slave rebellion and the rise of Toussaint-Louverture-the charismatic former slave who led the revolt to become Haiti's great liberator- volume one closed just as the French, Spanish, and English governments began to recognize the true extent-and threat-of Toussaint's military genius. Now, in this powerfully imagined tale interwoven with the lives and destinies of blacks and whites, men and women, free and enslaved, Bell blends intense prose with themes of race and class that still resonate today.


In 1995 Madison Smartt Bell published All Souls' Rising, earning both critical plaudits and a National Book Award nomination for this fictional account of Haiti's 18th-century slave rebellion. Now he continues the saga with Master of the Crossroads, the second volume of a projected trilogy. Even in his earlier narratives of contemporary America, the author has always been attuned to the byzantine politics of color. But by focusing on the figure of Toussaint Louverture--the black general who led the Haitians to independence only to be jailed for treason against the French Republic--Bell allows the politics of race to point him in unexpected and rewarding narrative directions. This is a big, muscular book, which derives much of its strength from the author's willingness to paint his tumultuous political and physical landscapes with broadly sweeping strokes. But it is also a work of surprising delicacy, whose finely drawn characters come to life with the minutest gesture or softly whispered word.

The crossroads herein are not merely literal but metaphorical. Yes, the former slaves and their courageous leader are pinned down in the island's remote interior, caught between the English forces and the Spanish army (their nominal yet treacherous ally). But more to the point, Haiti's intricate progress from slavery to freedom brings each of the characters to a crucial, defining moment of energy or introspection. And finally, swirling through the book like an island mist, is the voodoo figure of Mâit' Kalfou, or the "Master of the Crossroads." Straddling the worlds of the dead and the living, this ecstatic spirit may at any time inhabit the body of a believer:

Between Legba and Kalfou the crossroads stood open now, and now Guiaou could feel that opened pathway rushing up his spine--passage from the Island Below Sea inhabited by les Morts et les Mystères. His hips melted into the movement of the drums, and the tails of the red coat swirled around his legs like feathers of a bird. With the other dancers he closed the small, tight circle around Legba and Kalfou, who faced each other as in a mirror: the shining surface of the waters, which divides the living from the dead.
Throughout, Bell's captivating vision of the battlefield bears witness to his rigorous research. Still, the voodoo celebrations, and the author's sly evocation of their unexpected resonance, remain the novel's strongest moments. Why? They speak, perhaps, to the apocalyptic nature of the Haitian rebellion. And more intriguingly, they permit Bell to play with the deceptive nature of belief and reality--a move that, in an avowedly historical novel, hints at the ironic fluidity of history itself. --Kelly Flynn

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