Monday, December 11, 2023

The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho

The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho
  The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho
Author:  Paterson Joseph
Publication Information:  Henry Holt and Co. 2023. 432 pages.
ISBN:  1250880378 / 978-1250880376

Rating:  ★★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Time away from one's diary is as valuable as a little time away from one's lover."

Favorite Quote:  "Kindness is the greatest richness a life - any life - can afford. Kindness - the notion of kinship - should be a universal religion."

Charles Ignatius Sancho was an actual historical figure who lived from 1729 to 1780. He was born a slave and was brought to Britain as a two year and placed in the home of three sisters in Greenwich. He was given to them as a gift. He went on to become a free man, shopkeeper, abolitionist, writer and composer. He was at the first known person of African descent to vote in Britain. At his death, the British press gave him an obituary; he was the first  person of African descent to receive such an obituary. Two years after his death, The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African became the first published collection of letters by a person of African descent.

A lot of firsts in that one life!

This book does what I love about historical fiction. It introduces me to fiction I may never otherwise have encountered. This book tells the story of Charles Ignatius Sancho, as if in his own words, through his diaries. I have not read The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, but I presume the intent to pick up on the that same narrative theme. The diaries appear written to his son.

That being said, this book is a novel and fictionalizes the account. It is nevertheless an insightful view on slavery in Britain. I have read much on slavery in the Americas, so this was a different, less familiar perspective. It describes the dangers and horrors of slave catchers. It describes a human child gifted and raised as a "pet." It presents the abolitionist movement. It depicts the kindness of some who sought change.

I so appreciate the history I learn. However, at times, I find the book itself challenging to read. The pacing spends much time on the first 20-25 years of Sancho's life but then seems more rushed in the latter years. The timeline also jumps back and forth at times, and some of the book directly addresses Sancho's son and is not of the timeline at all. There is also a segment of the book that is in letters and introduces the perspective of a young woman in the Caribbean. That breaks the rhythm of the British story. At times, it feels like there is such a focus on telling the story that the story itself is lost. All of these reasons make the book challenging to follow and remain engaged in. I find myself skimming and searching out the nonfiction sources to learn the history.

At the end, I am glad I read it for the history I learned, but the telling of the story I leave behind.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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