Review of Cynthia Mc Leod’s new historical novel “Zenobia”

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A post by Peter Jordens.

Eric de Brabander reviews Cynthia Mc Leod’s new historical novel Zenobia for Antilliaans Dagblad. Here are excerpts:

The Surinamese society of the period before the abolition of slavery must surely have made a deep impression on Cynthia Mc Leod. She spent eight years studying this period, in particular the social structure and life conditions in the country [of Suriname] which was marked by prejudice and white supremacy. Like The Cost of Sugar and her next four novels, her latest book Zenobia is the result of this historical research. The book narrates the experiences of the enslaved woman Zenobia – the personal property of Charlotte Elisabeth van der Lith, better known among the enslaved as Misi Granman – set in the Government Palace in Paramaribo. […] Zenobia teaches herself to read and write, an ability which she cannot afford to flaunt, as slaves who could read and write were not appreciated in Suriname at that time. In the corridors of the Government Palace, Zenobia learns about the disagreements between the local elite and the colonial rulers in Suriname. […] Time and again Zenobia experiences firsthand how the well-to-do of Paramaribo filled their day with luxurious feasts, envy, and sex parties with slave women. Zenobia was an unintentional witness to the governmental chaos that prevailed in colonial Suriname. She witnessed how a group of rich planters chased away Governor Mauricius and how the elite filled their days with parties, feuds, bickering and futilities. The toil of the enslaved served to facilitate this lifestyle. […]

With Zenobia, Mc Leod has delivered her sixth historical novel, once again after conducting extensive research in the available archives. In so doing, she has enriched Surinamese literature with a piece of dependably written history. Zenobia reflects the perspective of the slave woman Zenobia; consequently the white rulers, especially Elisabeth van der Lith, come less into their own. That is understandable, because after all a slave woman would have had limited insight into the moral principles, rationale, and driving forces of her masters. As in her successful novel The Cost of Sugar, Mc Leod has chosen simple language and simple sentence structures. Perhaps this writing style betrays her teaching background. But the advantage is that it allows her to reach a larger group of readers […] Certainly with Zenobia, Mc Leod has made yet another invaluable contribution to our understanding of the era of slavery.

The original review (in Dutch) is available at http://werkgroepcaraibischeletteren.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Eric-de-Brabander-over-Zenobia-in-Antilliaans-Dablad.pdf.

Cynthia Mc Leod, Zenobia – Slavin op het Paleis [Zenobia – Slave Woman in the Palace] Conserve, October 2015. ISBN 978 90 5429 399 6 (paperback) 400 pages.

Publisher’s page: http://www.conserve.nl/auteurs3.htm

Surinamese teacher, researcher and novelist Cynthia Mc Leod (Paramaribo, 1936) has now written six historical novels that deal mostly with slavery. Her most famous work is her 1987 debut novel Hoe duur was de suiker? [The Cost of Sugar], which has been made into a TV series and a movie (see our previous post The Cost of Sugar to open Netherlands Film Festival).

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