I read Cane Warriors having discovered Alex Wheatle via a piece of his non-fiction writing. SAFE: 20 Ways to be a Black Man in Britain Today, is a collection of essays edited by Derek Owusu. Alex’s essay, Fear of a Black Man, moved me to contact him and he steered me in the direction of his latest novel, Cane Warriors.
It is 1760s Jamaica, where we meet 14 year-old Moa, a young slave on a sugar cane plantation. He and his friend Keverton spend their days cutting endless cane under the scorching sun. There are regular beatings and whippings by the slave masters, and death is never far away. Plans of a revolt, led by the great Tacky, whisper through the slave’s sleeping quarters. Suddenly, Moa faces a huge decision. Should he join the freedom fighters in their bid to free themselves and neighbouring slave plantations from the brutal regime?
Based on the true events of Tacky’s War, this book is written in stunning Jamaican dialect. Within its covers lies every emotion imaginable. The brutal violence of Moa’s life as a slave, and the subsequent bravery to seek freedom is written with expert care and attention. Alex neither shies away from, nor glorifies, the harsh realities of the slave trade that need to be acknowledged.
The tender moments between Moa and Keverton, dreaming of the life they deserve, brought tears to my eyes. There is also a beautiful exploration of the Akan faith, with poignant ceremonies, songs and prayers performed by the Cane Warriors.
Nobody free till everybody free.
Cane Warriors hit the shelves in October 2020 and already, it is receiving incredible reviews. Many readers are hailing it as a modern classic and there are calls for it to be read in schools up and down the country. The Times claims it as Alex’s best novel yet – and he is already the winner of the Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Prize.
I can’t wait to see what more Alex will produce.
I was extremely lucky to talk to Alex Wheatle about Cane Warriors in the Mostly Books Meets podcast. The episode is available to listen to now on Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud and most other podcast platforms.
Image: Sharmaine Sepehr Photography