50 Books by Authors of Color: Book 9
Author: Walter Mosley
Medium: Book & Audiobook
I knew I’d read 47 sooner or later during this project, and I’d both been looking forward to it and dreading it. I’ve been told multiple times that 47 is a powerful book that goes beyond slavery, but a large part of me didn’t want to read something that was depressing and yet an unrealistic depiction of slavery. Mosely’s 47 blew my expectations out of the water and presented what I felt was honest while keeping the science fiction fan in me happy as well.
47 is the only name given to our protagonist, a young black man who was born on a cotton plantation to a mother who was the personal slave to the Master, Tobias’ wife. His father is believed to have been a
slave from another nearby plantation. 47’s mother dies birthing him and because her singing is the only thing that calmed the Tobias’ wife during her fits with her not there, his wife died as well. Tobias
hates 47 because of this, he would have sold him off but his wife’s dying wish was that he remains on the plantation. 47 is taken in by Big Mama Flore who refuses to feed him meat or milk to try and keep
him small. Clearly this plan only works for so long and 47 is given his number and sent out to work in the cotton fields.
47 is subjected to a horrific branding by another slave name Preacher, but is saved from further harm by a slave named Champ, who takes 47 under his wing and protects him. His days in the fields are exhausting and his hands are wounded and infected from picking cotton. 47 is living in unsanitary conditions and he is surrounded by death and disease. It is after the funeral of a slaved named Nigger Ned that, well for lack of better words, shit gets weird.
47 meets a runaway slave who decides to call himself TallJohn, even though he is not very tall. It turns out, John isn’t even human. He is from a planet far away and has no way to get back. He has been sent to find 47 and to help him destroy an evil that will hurt both planets, an evil that has taken the form of a local slave master. TallJohn comes not only trying to stop the evil, but to change 47 and his way of thinking. He does this with the help of a litany “neither master nor nigger be”. Which on the surface is very straightforward, but TallJohn leads 47 down a trail of thoughts where he re-evaluate what it means to be an owner and to be owned.
The cost of freedom is high, Mosley does not hold back when it comes to death, sickness and madness as he describes the revolt and fleeing of the slaves. But the fight is more than just the fight for physical freedom, in 47 the fight is for mental freedom from internalized racism and degradation. Mosley does an excellent job of capturing both science fiction elements and the horrible event in history that was slavery on a cotton plantation.
Overall Rating: 4/5