So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mandingo

Mandingo by Kyle Onstott

First published in 1959, before the civil rights movement had changed much in the USA, Mandingo is a book that takes a harsh and simplistic view of slavery in the 1830's South. As the author recreates this period, slaves are animals to be bred, worked, and sold as the owners see fit. The N-word is used frequently, and slaves are represented as simple-minded and devoted to their owners. Bored by their rural life, young white men enjoy sex with their female slaves and wagering on fights between their most muscular male slaves. Slave breeding and prices are about the only things that the plantation owners seem to have enough knowledge about and interest to discuss.

Hammond Maxwell is 18 years old and an only child. His mother died when he was young, and his father is disabled by rheumatism. He and his father Warren are the only whites on a large Alabama plantation. Since he reached puberty he has had his choice of bedmates from the slaves of the plantation. His father is pressuring Hammond to marry his cousin Blanche, who he hasn't seen since she was a baby, and who lives on a distant plantation. Although Hammond has had many children by his female slaves, his father is looking for a white child who can be an heir to their plantation, Falconhurst. Blanche's father is eager to arrange a match because he is deep in debt and hopes to secure a "loan" from Hammond in exchange for his parental approval. Hammond, on his side is willing to do his duty to provide his father with progeny, but finds sex with slaves much more satisfying than with his wife. Blanche, neglected by a husband who finds more time for his pure-bred Mandingo fighter than for her, turns to drink and eventually to infidelity to ease her loneliness.

The plot is simplistic and the characters two-dimensional. One would hope that the author portrayed them that way intentionally rather than through lack of skill. In either case, the reader gets a glimpse into the dehumanizing effects of slavery on both the owner and the owned. This is a difficult book that gives a harsh glimpse at a brutal way of life.

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