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Sweetsmoke Hardcover – September 1, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mystery novels, ever in need of fresh points of view, are given to strange genre hybrids like Fuller's debut novel: part investigative procedural, part narrative of American slave life. Cassius, a secretly literate slave on a Civil War–era Virginia tobacco plantation, is determined to track down whoever killed his mentor and surrogate mother, Emoline Justice, a free black woman. Making liberal use of his limited freedoms, Cassius takes to the road, playing the obvious disadvantages of life under the yoke to his favor. Along the way, he encounters slave traders, Underground Railroad conspirators, Confederate soldiers, Northern spies and a wide assortment of African-Americans, slave and free. Fuller, a screenwriter, has palpable sympathy for his African-American characters, and Cassius's encounters with other characters—like the haunted slave owner Hoke Howard—are the book's strongest parts. Unfortunately, Fuller's solid plot doesn't carry the novel through to its end, and, despite sourcing the work of historians Eugene Genovese and John Hope Franklin, the novel gives off a distinct whiff of unreality. (Sept.)
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"Sweetsmoke is a fascinating and gripping novel about the Civil War. The slave, Cassius Howard, is a great fictional character, and his story is part mystery, part love story, and a harrowing portrait of slavery that reads with the immense power of the slave narratives. A tour de force for David Fuller."―Pat Conroy, author of Beach Music and South of Broad

"David Fuller vividly and movingly describes the life of Cassius, a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Sweetsmoke resonates with unforgettable characters and a gripping story of loss and survival."―Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South

"With Sweetsmoke, David Fuller gives an extraordinarily nuanced, privileged, and convincing view of the world of slavery during the American Civil War, and of the hearts and minds of the men and women who had to live in that world."―Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls' Rising and Toussaint Louverture

The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401323316
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401323318
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,569,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dera R Williams on August 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The much awaited Civil War novel, Sweetsmoke, by screenwriter, David Fuller, explores slave/carpenter Cassius Hoke's day-to-day existence on Plantation Sweetsmoke in Virginia. Cassius learns about the death of Emoline, the freedwoman who nursed him back to health and taught him to read and write. When it is apparent it is murder, he sets out to avenge her death.

As the story progressed, I became convinced why a black woman's death, slave or free, would have a devastating affect on both black and white, and especially Cassius, as the author drew a picture of Emoline as savior and guardian angel, yet a flawed and vulnerable woman. Emoline and Cassius have a special bond through his owner and her former owner, Hoke Howard, the tortured master of Sweetsmoke. Cassius plots his investigation carefully, yet methodically, never wavering from his mission to find the truth. For every answer Cassius gets, there arises another question; just who was Emoline, other than the woman who rescued him after the most devastating time of his life? A fortunate teller, a healer, and a risk taker; she taught him to read and write and exposed him to literature at a time when it was against the law to teach a slave to read, but Emoline had many secrets.

Cassius' past and present collide amidst the superstitious beliefs of the slaves; there is an aura of bad luck that surrounds him. But while he is somewhat of a pariah, he is also a trusted slave and respected among the field hands and the house servants. Nevertheless, his life as a slave is no less easy; the daily existence to not only stay alive, but to stay one step ahead of those who own him.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sweetsmoke by David Fuller is a mystery. Sweetsmoke by David Fuller is a character study. Sweetsmoke by David Fuller is a historical fiction. It is truly all of these and more. David Fuller spent eight years researching and writing this novel about a plantation called Sweetsmoke set in 1862 during the Civil War. His work is deeply moving, with prose that brings the reader into the setting and characters which are complex and interesting. Fuller does not shy away from the conflicts and personality disorders which occur when one group of people "own" another and this is part of the appeal of the story and it is a gripping and exciting story.

I was so impressed with Fuller's development of the central character, Cassius Howard, a slave who was trained by the plantation owner, Hoke Howard, as a carpenter and as such was given certain freedom and was on occasion lent to other plantation to help them in their buildings. Cassius is a reflective, intelligent and secret individual with great strength of character along with many internal conflicts:

"Sounds of the plantation slipped in clear and bright, then were just as quickly muffled, a fragment of work song followed by a ghostly stillness, the drifting laughter of children, blown away by the rush of overhead wind. A deep ache built inside him as he listened to people living, working and being together. A fierce and terrible melancholy gripped him and he did not understand why the feeling made him desire to live.
Finally, a breath of breeze passed under the brim of his hat and cooled the sweat, and Cassius was released from the moment."

When Cassius learns that Emoline, the free woman who helped him when he was deeply injured, has been murdered, he vows to find out who murdered her and avenge her.
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Format: Hardcover
Set in 1862, the second year of the Civil War in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Sweetsmoke, a tobacco plantation struggles to meet the demands of the Confederate Army and the rigors of the planting season. A third-generation plantation owner, Hoke Howard is a hard man, but fair he thinks, handling his slaves with authority and brutality when it is warranted. Cassius is a favored slave, a carpenter who suffers the envy of the field hands for his larger cabin and small leniencies afforded him by the owner. Howard and his wife have lost one son to the war, another fighting on the front; Hoke increasingly relies on Cassius, believing the man to be of excellent quality, a sound investment: "We are, after all benevolent... our people are well-served." Regardless of whatever feelings churn on the inside, Cassius shows nothing to the world, having accepted the limitations of his very existence, freedom but a distant hope and years away. Cautious and enterprising, Cassius keeps to himself in an environment where danger comes from any direction, from the whites, or the petty jealousies of other slaves, their belongings, including pride, meager.

Fuller beautifully describes this nightmarish landscape, characters defined by their circumstances and limitations, Cassius's life one of nearly unendurable grief. Nursed back to physical and emotional health after the loss of his wife and the uncertain fate of his son, Cassius is profoundly grateful for the ministrations of a local freed black woman, Emoline Justice. A healer/herbalist, Emoline nurses the broken Cassius, teaching him the forbidden- reading- over the long, pain-wracked nights of his recovery. Such small moments of grace keep Cassius from despair.
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