Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl

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9780142001837: Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl

Kidnapped from Galway, Ireland, as a young girl, shipped to Barbados, and forced to work the land alongside African slaves, Cot Daley's life has been shaped by injustice. In this stunning debut novel, Kate McCafferty re-creates, through Cot's story, the history of the more than fifty thousand Irish who were sold as indentured servants to Caribbean plantation owners during the seventeenth century. As Cot tells her story-the brutal journey to Barbados, the harrowing years of fieldwork on the sugarcane plantations, her marriage to an African slave and rebel leader, and the fate of her children—her testimony reveals an exceptional woman's astonishing life.

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From the Author:

Q> What prompted you to write Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl? Do you feel a personal connection to the historical events on which the novel is based?

When I was in Graduate School a professor mentioned the special breeding of Irish and African slaves in Barbados, to produce the favored concubine of British officers in the North American colonies. That was the first of maybe fifty linked prompts that accumulated as I did research. I feel a very strong personal connection to not only Irish historical events, but also those that are related to gender treatment, class and race issues, etc.

Q> What kind of research did you do for the novel? What discoveries most surprised you?

I researched histories of slaves in the Sugar Islands and the repercussions of British rule in West Ireland from 1580-1690 in particular. But I also found ships' logs, studied the geography of the island, found snippets of sales of slaves, read burial practices and plantation birth/death records, etc. I learned a lot about the economies of sugar and the rise of the merchant class in England in terms of its conflict with deeply engrained class values left over from a feudal era. The research was just fascinating.

Q> How do you think England's oppression of the Irish in the seventeenth century is related to current troubles between the two nations?

The current troubles in the six counties have a great deal to do with class rather than religion, which is commonly blamed. In addition, the same inability to value the Irish as full human beings is not, unfortunately, a thing of the past: only after the Good Friday Agreement did nationalist, native (as opposed to the scions of plantation) Irish get to represent their own communities in Parliament, for example.

Q> The novel makes many references to Eden, to the garden paradise that Barbados seems both to echo and invert. Why did you want to link the Biblical story of the Fall to your story?

It wasn't deliberate. But now that you've brought it out, I think two things. First of all, I guess I believe that no matter how lovely a geographical setting, we must make our own heavens from manmade hells. My favorite work of Shakespeare is The Tempest-and that was the setting of a questionable Caribbean paradise. Its native Adams and Eves had already fled by the seventeenth century, and Cot Daley and Peter Coote had to bite different apples than the Arawaks . . .

Q> Cot speaks of Quashey's Jihad, or Holy War, for freedom, words which might make contemporary American readers uneasy. Could you expand upon your sense of the true meaning of Jihad?

I was teaching in the Middle East and polled colleagues and students about what the Koran was really saying (all this long before 9/11, of course). The interpretations I got were pretty uniform, namely that there are two jihads. The little one is in the external world, if needed, and is as much by words or pen as by the sword. But "the big jihad," everyone agreed, is internal and has to do with trying to live a decent, peaceful, and compassionate life.

Q> In your Acknowledgments you mention Mary Reynolds matter-of-fact acceptance of Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl's relevance. Were you initially uncertain about this? What do you now see as the novel's chief significance for our time?

There's been a recent trend against histories in the genre of novel. I think it's a kind of postmodern stance, as if looking at history, in the age of the Pentium 4, isn't going to help us now. But it was my intention to point at certain experiences and patterns of power that have gone on, and are still going on, and are often smoke screened by issues like race. People use each other for profit, sometimes unto death, and we will never know "brotherhood" until we deal with that universal.

Q> What other novels dealing with the slave trade would you recommend to readers?

Who could miss Beloved, by Toni Morrison? What a wonderful gift to humanity! And Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth. But also those works not dealing with U.S. slavery: I read something when I was in Saudi Arabia by a woman who had been enslaved and used as a servant. And also those that deal with slavery after the slave trade, like Aimee Cesaire's Lost Bodies.

About the Author:

Kate McCafferty was born in the United States and received her Ph.D. in English. Since then she has taught English in colleges all over the world. She has published essays, poems, and short fiction pieces in a number of publications. Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl is her first novel.

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