A gripping retelling of a victorious revolt against slaveryThis post may contain compensated links. Read my disclaimer here
Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Succesful Slave Revolt in History
by CLR James, Nic Watts, and Sakina Karimjee
Verso, 2023. 272 pages.
Genres: Graphic Novel / Non-Fiction / History
We rate it: 5/5
Buy now from:Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com
The scale and horrors of slavery in recent history can be hard to comprehend. Not least because the history of slavery is often glossed over by those who benefited from it.* And the question of how slavery ended is a contested and important one.
We’re often led to believe slavery ended because white politicians decided it was the right thing to do. Yet, acts of resistance and revolt from the enslaved people were crucial. Change was heavily resisted by most white European politicians at the time.
A new graphic novel, Toussaint Louverture, tells the story of the black-led slave revolt in San Domingo. When the rebellion began in 1791 San Domingo was partly owned by the French and partly by the Spanish. While the French Revolution called for liberty, the people of its colonies continued to endure slavery.
They resisted. Toussaint Louverture was an enslaved coachman. He was literate and rose to prominence as a leader of the revolt. Over 12 years the revolution changed the island and led to the creation of Haiti.
Bringing a complex history to life
The graphic novel Toussaint Louverture is an adaption of a play by C. L. R. James, the author of The Black Jacobins. The play was staged in London in 1936. But the script was lost until recently. After its discovery, artists Nic Watts and Sakina Karimjee adapted the play into a stunning graphic novel.
When I picked up the graphic novel I didn’t know much about Toussaint or the slave revolt in Haiti. The story is complex. The European leaders deceived and manipulated Toussaint and other black and mulatto leaders. Their machinations and cruelty are laid bare on the pages of the graphic novel.
The format brought the story of the people who fought for their freedom to life. The artwork is inventive and powerful. The violence of slavery and the brutality of power-hungry colonialists leap off the page with dynamism. Small details like the repeated motif of the mosquito that plagues the colonialists drive the narrative forward.
The French military betrayed and imprisoned Toussaint. The artists capture his isolation and despair emphatically. The book left me better informed about the events and also deeply moved.
Who is Toussaint Louverture for?
Anyone interested in history should read this graphic novel. Fans of non-fiction graphic novels like Palestine by Joe Sacco will also love it.
*recommended reading on the UK’s role in slavery and its selective amnesia about it includes Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera.
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