May 2005

An unexpected path to freedom

By Walter Mosley
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We do not know the stars. Civilization has illuminated the night, and we don’t know what a dark night really looks like; we haven’t for at least a century. “47” knows the night, though. He lives in an era when electricity is still a dream, and when the sun goes down the sky is as black as a lump of coal. He knows that the lights in the sky are stars, but he doesn’t know what that means. He doesn’t know anything beyond the fact that he is a slave child in the Deep South, given a number instead of a name, and that he has been torn from the arms of the only mother he has ever known, cruelly branded and put to work in a cotton field.

Fate, however, has unexpected plans for 47, and they arrive in the form of Tall John, a mysterious runaway slave, who looks, talks and acts differently than anyone 47 has ever met. We learn all this at the beginning of 47, the first young adult novel by acclaimed writer Walter Mosley, who has created a wonderful, genre-bending exploration into life, destiny and what it means to be free.

Master Tobias Turner’s plantation is far from the false, happy vision of Gone With the Wind. Slaves are treated with offhand cruelty, on a par with animals. It is, in fact, when a slave is “put down” that young 47 inherits his “name.” Shortly thereafter he is running errands in the cotton field, and it is while he is so employed that he meets Tall John, a golden-skinned slave who seems to know him. Is he the “healer” who escaped from a nearby plantation? Is he an African god, as his friends speculate? Or is he something else? And what does Tall John mean when he calls 47 a “hero”? Mosley, best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries, has penned a fascinating novel for young people, part historical fiction, part science fiction and part fantasy. The enigmatic Tall John leads both 47 and readers on a quest for freedom, and on the way takes readers to some startling places they won’t soon forget.

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By Walter Mosley
Little, Brown
ISBN 9780316110358

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