WSBG reviews Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips


We were really excited by the mainstream press review of this book on Amazon:

Here is a brilliantly imagined novel of the African diaspora by the author of Cambridge  and Higher Ground, among others. It begins in 18th-century Africa as three children–Nash, Martha, and Travis–are sold into slavery. What follows are “their” life stories along with excerpts from the logbook of the slave ship’s captain. Nash returns to Africa as a Christian missionary in the 1830s. Martha is a former slave whom we meet as she lays dying in Denver, having failed to reach California and find her only child, taken from her years before. Travis is reincarnated as an American GI stationed in England in 1943; his story is poignantly told by the British woman he marries. Bold in its design, beautiful in its language, compelling because of its characters, this grand novel of ideas–short-listed for the 1993 Booker Prize–belongs in every fiction collection.

We were so disappointed.  What we imagined and looked forward to reading when we selected the book was not realized.  First, this felt like a collection of short stories or novellas.  Individually the first two were quite strong, though both left us feeling some important things were lacking.  We felt the third was not nearly revealing enough about Travis; we learned very little about him, in fact we barely met him.  The jumping back in forth in time device seemed rather random and artificial.  And we were unsatisfied with the last part that attempted to pull it all together.  Just not good enough.

There were interesting parts, and it was a heartbreaking glimpse into the long lived effects of slavery.  While it was a very accessible book and a very easy read, we ended up feeling it was, dare we say, inconsequential.  Not what we were expecting.  Another instance where I find customer reviews more insightful than the professional reviewers on Amazon.

Don’t think it will find a permanent place in any of our fiction collections. Geez, we can be such a bitchy book group, don’t you think?


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