Greg will lead this month's discussion. New and used copies of the book are readily available. An e-text is also available for Kindle and Nook.
Introduction: The Benjamin January series begins with A Free Man of Color. January is a brilliant, classically educated, free colored surgeon and musician living in New Orleans during the antebellum years of the 1830s. At the time, New Orleans had a large and prosperous population of free people of color. Born a slave, as his mother was enslaved, January was freed as a young child by his mother's lover, under the plaçage system. Provided with an excellent education, he gained fluency in several classical and modern languages, and was thoroughly versed in the whole of classical Western learning and arts. He studied medicine in Paris, where he trained as a surgeon. He returned to Louisiana to escape the memory of his late wife, a woman from North Africa. As a free black in Louisiana, he cannot find work as a surgeon. He earns a modest living by his exceptional talent and skill as a musician.
Each title in the series explores many aspects of French Creole and overall Louisiana society. Most tend to emphasize some particular element of antebellum Louisiana life, such as Voodoo religion (Graveyard Dust), opera and music (Die Upon a Kiss), the annual epidemics of yellow fever and malaria (Fever Season), fear of miscegenation (Dead and Buried), or the harsh nature of commercial sugar production by enslaved labor (Sold Down the River).
Important themes of the series are 1) the cultural clash between the rising Protestant English-speaking Anglo-Americans, and the declining Catholic, French-speaking Creoles on the other, 2) the extreme regard of Creoles of color society for "how" much European and African ancestry a person had, with favor given to lighter-skinned persons 3) January's bitterness at the many forms of racial injustice he observes, 4) the complex, partially race-based sexual politics of colonial French and United States society, and 5) January's comparison of what he thinks of as the open and frank African outlook of his early childhood with the more restrained and rational European worldview he acquired through education and experience. This last theme occurs most often with respect to music, spirituality, and respect for law and social custom.
Plot: In the midst of Mardi Gras in 1833, Benjamin January, a Creole physician and music teacher, is playing piano at the Salle d'Orleans when the evenings festivities are interrupted--by murder. Ravishing Angelique Crozat, a notorious octoroon who travels in New Orleans' finest company, has been strangled. With the authorities reluctant to become involved, Ben begins his own inquiry, which will take him through the seamy haunts of riverboatmen and into the huts of voodoo-worshipping slaves.
Also join us for Movie/Game Night on Friday, November 30.