Sacred Hunger

The life of a slave ship, from construction through abandonment on the Florida coast, underpins the story set in the 1700s. William Kemp builds the ship, then ends up hanging himself under the pressure of mounting debts. His son, Erasmus Kemp, jettisons his attempt at marriage with a local merchant’s daughter and picks up the mantle to clear his father’s name and debts. While this plot unfolds in Liverpool, the slaver is making its way along the African coast bargaining for slaves and encountering disease, suffering, escaped crew, doldrums, drunkenness, the acquisition of a monkey and a gentleman, mutiny, a tornado of water, and beaching.
The sacred hunger refers to the desire for money and its quest being ordained as above all others, allowing any means to acquire it. The term comes up in a conversation between the ship’s doctor (Paris) and a portrait painter (Delblanc) stationed in a remote fort who buys passage on the ship and whose preaching of a life where everyone is equal leads to the founding of the settlement post-beaching of the ship.
Twelve years pass, and Erasmus Kemp learns of the existence of his father’s ship on the Florida coast. Consumed by the desire for revenge on his cousin (Paris, the ship doctor), Kemp charters a ship and heads off to the colonies to see for himself, and to catch his cousin. The cause for this bloodlust remained somewhat unclear until the end– Kemp was beaten by his cousin in some race as a young child and always held it against him. Kemp’s party stumbles upon the settlement where blacks and whites have comingled in perilous harmony, a balance that seems sure to crumble any day now, as smart residents have begun to take advantage of those less talented and talk of slavery begins to crop up as one powerful trader tries to trap another into being his slave.
Overall a powerfully compelling look at the life and time of that era, from the perspective of sailors, gentlemen, Governors, and slaves.

Continue reading “Sacred Hunger”

Barbarians at the Gate

Not even close to as thrilling and engaging as The Informant (the ADM price fixing scheme), this book is touted as the granddaddy of all business books, giving an inside look into the leveraged buyout (LBO) of RJR Nabisco in 1988.
Ross Johnson is portrayed as the smarmy, greedy CEO of RJR Nabisco, who rose from obscurity in his 40s after languishing in Canada for his early career. After merging Standard Brands (who?!) with Nabisco, he then merged Nabisco with RJ Reynolds tobacco. Getting bored of jetting about and playing golf, Johnson decides to pursue the LBO after the 1987 market crash left the stock price depressed.
Interesting connection between The Informant and this book– page 372:
“But even schmoozing with the president failed to lift Johnson from his growing pessimism. Later, leaving for the plane to New York, he turned to Dwayne Andreas, chairman of Archer Daniels Midland and chairman of the committee. Andreas was a friend; Johnson said he wished they saw each other more often. “Well, Dwayne,” he said, “I might have a lot more free time in a couple of weeks.”

Continue reading “Barbarians at the Gate”

The Lazarus Project

Bosnian writer Brik lives in Chicago and is being kept by his brain-surgeon wife, Mary. He chafes under his inability to earn a living, and somehow secures a grant to write about Lazarus, a Russian Jew killed in the early 1900s by the Chicago Chief of Police after Lazarus went to visit him and deliver a message. The Lazarus chapters are punctuated by stories from the press at that time, which depict him as a cold blooded anarchist, though he was nothing of the sort. Lazarus’ sister Olga bears the brunt of his death, being interrogated by police and hiding his friend Isador in the latrine. Lazarus survived the Russian pogrom only to be killed in the land of tolerance and freedom. Olga starts and stops several letters to her mother to describe Lazarus’ death.
Brik travels back to Russia and then Bosnia/Serbia, with his old friend Rora the photographer, who ends up killed in a random act of violence for his camera. Along the way Rora entertains with many stories. Brik’s constant doubt about his wife undermines him, he halfheartedly calls her and emails her, you can palpably feel the disintegration of their relationship.

Continue reading “The Lazarus Project”