I had high expectations for The Coming by Daniel Black. Over the past few years, I’ve read several books about slavery and this book caught my eye because of its focus on the Middle Passage. Positive reviews and high ratings praised The Coming for capturing the emotions that enslaved Africans might have felt. Imagine being snatched from their villages, enduring a grueling voyage, and finding themselves traded like chattel in a strange land.
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The premise of telling the story from a narrator and group’s perspective is an interesting concept but poorly executed. The narrator is a character in the story but has no first-person perspective. Lacking a backstory, specific experiences, name, or any other form of personhood makes the narrator a “we” without an “I”. It was weird and made the narrator / main character feel disembodied.
Telling the story from the perspective of a group wasn’t the issue. None of the characters stood out as they weren’t identified as individuals until something heinous happened.
The book was supposed to be about how slavery dehumanized the Africans who were captured and sold into slavery. Yet, The Coming felt like it dehumanized these lost souls by reducing their existence to being victims of slavery. Trying to describe a harrowing institution such as slavery by dedicating a few paragraphs to detailing each character’s life and experiences means that those better be some profound and unforgettable paragraphs. But, that’s not the case here.
There’s a large cast of characters featured but nobody’s story stood out or stuck with me. The book didn’t go deep enough into fleshing out the characters. The disembodied storytelling gave a bird’s eye view of slavery and combined with the lack of character detail resulted in a lack of feeling.
The book lurched from one terrible phase of the enslavement and spirit breaking of Africans to another. The full extent of the repulsiveness of slavery should be discussed. But, it requires a certain nuance and sensitivity to capture the ugliness of the institution without further exploitation of the victims.
I couldn’t get into The Coming. It’s a short book but it was depressing and seemed to drag on. I can handle difficult topics but this was a slog and I didn’t make it through. I finally gave up after reading about 75% of the book.
The writing style wasn’t my cup of tea but lots of other people thought The Coming was a moving experience. You might enjoy The Coming if you’re looking for a comprehensive view of slavery from the perspective of enslaved Africans. It might also be appealing if you enjoy reading books with quirky writing styles.
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