The Slave Ship Fredensborg

Leif Svalesen, Author Indiana University Press $19.95 (244p) ISBN 978-0-253-33777-1
How much do any of us know about the role of Denmark and Norway in the slave trade? A book published in Norway last year, now available in English, won't quite tell readers all they ever wanted to know about Norwegian slave traders, but it provides a fascinating first glimpse. The Fredensborg ferried slaves and sailors from Denmark and Norway to the Gold Coast, St. Thomas and St. Croix. It sank in 1768, off the coast of Norway, and Svalesen was a member of the team of divers who discovered its remains more than two centuries later. Here he looks at the actual workings of the slave shipDat Danes and Norwegians who married African women; at the ""Negro dances"" African slaves performed on board the ship; at how, in order to placate the slaves, the slave traders gave them brandy and tobacco on the trip from Africa to the Caribbean. The clunky translation gets in the book's way (the 1700s were ""a time when much was different in comparison to modern criteria""). And Svalesen relies too much on Captain Ferentz's diary, quoting it for pages on end with little interpretation to help the reader. Moreover, though he offers other evocative details of daily life on the slaverDlike the list of clothes the captain brought on boardDhe never tells what we might learn from knowing that a ""slightly worn gold-braided hat"" and a pair of red slippers made it into Captain Kimnig's suitcase. The result is a book long on antiquarianism but short on history. The subject mighty seem an incongruous one for a gift book, but the volume is heavily and handsomely illustrated (64 b& w and 93 color illus.), and for readers who want an immediate sense of the horrific genesis of African-American history, this is an excellent choice. (Nov. 13)
Reviewed on: 10/30/2000
Release date: 11/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
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