"47" is about a young boy who had to find a lifeline to survive a labyrinth of abuse and oppression during an era of slavery that many have allowed to dull from memory. The book begins with a young boy who lives with an awareness that his existence has been despised from birth, being blamed by Master Tobias for killing both his slave mother who cared for the masters wife, and later the master's wife who was broken-hearted by the death of her house slave. The only role that 47 played in either death was his birth.
Too young to enter the slave shack 47 lives in fear and observation of the future that is soon approaching him as he comes of age, and looks ahead at the doom, abuse, grueling ritual routine of daily field labor that awaits him when Master Tobias sends him to the slave shacks.
Immediately when 47 is sent to the adult slave shacks, still too young for the hard labor, but sent early because of the hate and resentment Master Tobias has for him, he is introduced to Pritchard, a bitter slave toppled with a condition that allows 47 no mercy.
Overwhelmed, with the fear of death, and an inability due to size and age to do what is expected of him, 47 is thrown a lifeline when he meets a seemingly disguised educated lost/runaway slave boy who outwardly displays himself as an Uncle Tom named Tall John.
Tall John introduces a philosophy of freedom for slaves that 47 never thought was possible. The lost/runaway boy Tall John is rumored to be a healer amongst slave masters. Tall John who is seemingly submissive and compliant to Master Tobias begins to secretly educate 47 in defiance of slavery. Tall John teaches 47 about the medicinal secrets of his native land used to heal. He also esteems 47 and promises him a future of freedom.
Despite Tall Johns healing abilities both boys face a harsh and brutally unfair reality of being seen as a threat for knowing more and doing more even as they aid in healing Master Tobias ailing daughter. Service during slavery is sometimes a curse for slaves if it gives a slave an upper hand that slave masters feel makes a slave seem more superior.
Much has been learned from reading Walter Mosley's book which is freedom isn't given, it must be taken, a choice that could come with penalty. Freedom is an act based on principals demonstrated by the choices we make everyday, despite the penalty. For slaves it was more than civil disobedience, each act towards freedom meant most often death and not punishment. The alternative to freedom was unbearable torture.
At times this book was hard to read. Although it is a book of historical fiction, it read more like a parable of lessons. The book 47 teaches readers that the mentality of slavery has to be first altered in the mind, next how one sees him or herself, not through the eyes of the slave master, but as someone greater. Tall John begin to make 47 believe, once your self-image and vision has changed, then one possesses the power to force conditions to change, despite the penalty. Freedom!
I learned today on CNN listening to Spike Lee's interview with Anderson that it was 400 years ago this year, that slaves were brought to America.
Book Review by Nikola Naylor-Warren