When a white writer writes an African American or African character, I worry—especially when that author is writing about slaves. I worried through the first chapters of Cheryl Sawyer’s La Créole. This apprehension never quite went away, but I ended up enjoying this tale of revenge, villainy, love, piracy, slavery, war, and identity. La Créole tells the story of Ayisha, an enslaved woman on the island of Martinique, who escapes to France and spends a year working towards revenge on the man who owned her.
The first chapters set the stage for Ayisha’s revenge before catapulting her to Nantes, Orléans, and Paris. After seeing the man she loves murdered on the master’s orders, Ayisha makes a vow to return and rescue her mother and village from slavery. She’s not sure how to accomplish this. At first, she had vague plans to approach King Louis XVI and begging him to free her people. When that fails, she hatches an even riskier plan: to gamble and win enough money to buy the estate on Martinique and the enslaved people there.
La Créole stumbles in the first third. Though Ayisha shows a lot of spirit and determination, she is curiously passive as she travels from Nantes to Paris. She is mostly willing to go along with anyone’s schemes for her. These chapters read like a picaresque without the humor. Every now and then, Ayisha would show a flash of agency, but it isn’t until she becomes a gambler that she becomes more of an agent of her own future. This passivity could be explained by her naivté about France, I suppose, but I found Ayisha a very inconsistent character until the latter half of the book.
There is far too much plot to summarize, even in the first third, like I normally do. This book is crammed with things happening to and around Ayisha. I read faster and faster because I had to know what came next for our protagonist. Despite her odd characterization, I had to root for her as her fortunes rose and fell (sometimes literally). La Créole is a dramatic adventure and a highly entertaining read.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.