Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast by Marjoleine Kars. London: Profile Books, 2020. Paperbook publication 3 November 2022, £10.99. ISBN 9781800812284.
Unputdownable! I’m not the first to say that this book is a model for how academic history can reach a wide audience. First and foremost a narrative; underpinned by exhaustive research. A significant work of history: Kars tells the story of the 1763 rebellion by thousands of enslaved people in Berbice (part of modern-day Guyana) that lasted for almost a year. The narrative is fast-paced, detailed and encompasses the different ‘characters’ involved – enslaved, plantation proprietors, Dutch colonial ‘masters’. Kars has excavated a huge amount of primary source material, largely in her native Dutch language. In telling the story of the rebellion, she provides a comprehensive history of Berbice and the people who lived there – ‘Amerindians’, Europeans and enslaved. Using her research and personal experience of the environment, she writes evocatively of the Berbice River and the surrounding forest and marshes. Be warned though, the horrific violence of slavery and the fight to overcome a rebellion are recounted in unflinching detail.
As I write, Blood on the River is available in hardback or ebook format but will be out in paperback at an affordable price from November 2022. It’s a stunning book. Marjoleine Kars is the deserved winner of a number of prizes already for this book.
Click on the link to listen to Marjoleine Kars discuss the book on New Books Network (2020).