The Restless Crucible: A Novel
by Yaw Agawu-Kakraba
The Restless Crucible narrates the story of Pedro de Barbosa, a Brazilian ex-slave now turned slave merchant, who must go up against Queen Ena Sunu, the powerful Dahomeyan monarch resolved to end slave traffic in her kingdom.
Set in late 18th- and early 19th-Century Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, and Dahomey on the West African coast, the novel describes Pedro de Barbosa’s fight to become free in the Brazil of his time, as well as the events and actions that lead him to engage in the abominable yet lucrative slave trade. At the heart of this trajectory are the conditions that condemn an individual to poverty, discrimination, and humiliation because of skin color. The project to insulate himself from these injustices leads to a confrontation with the Dahomeyan Queen Ena Sunu, whose personal story of forced marriage to the Dahomeyan King, and the negation of her agency as a female in this tradition-bound society brings an uncomfortable identification with the enemy and the need to protect her society from both local and foreign predators. Queen Ena Sunu’s misgivings are confirmed when her husband, along with the Portuguese Governor and the king of Ouidah, deposes her father and sells him and his royal family into bondage. Queen Ena Sunu resolves to thwart the slave business in Dahomey and Ouidah, bringing up a long-delayed confrontation with Pedro de Barbosa.
What People are Saying:
When the world is so flawed, and there are no heroes, the storyteller must invent/reinvent a new way to narrate such tragic story of the past of a world that still haunts us today. Yaw Agawu-Kakraba’s spellbinding, and heart wrenching novel portrays the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. The Restless Crucible’s compelling telling of the other story of the transatlantic slave trade in the Portuguese world and the plight of African peoples taken from their homelands is haunting. You will be intrigued by the author’s narrative skill and voice that are both African and American, excavating a story of the other worlds we could not have imagined. Here is a great storyteller, reinventing tradition, bringing together two worlds: the Africa of his original homeland, and America, his new homeland, two conversations about a world we thought we already knew. This book will keep you turning the page as you discover how our past has come to meet the present. This is an urgently necessary book.
—Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, author of Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems
Yaw Agawu-Kakraba’s The Restless Crucible is a dazzling feast for the senses, a story from centuries past that manages, through the author’s deft skills of perception, to comment upon our own vexing times. With penetrating insight, Agawu-Kakraba reminds us that the politics of slavery, of human beings’ need to control each other via subjugation, never truly ebbs, leaving a scar as long and harrowing as time itself.
—Kenneth Womack, author of The Time Diaries
The trickster Pedro de Barbosa will haunt the reader’s imagination. Ultimately, this is a tragic tale of a man who chooses to use the weapons of the strong, with hopes of emancipating himself, even if it means sacrificing others with whom he has shared a common fate.
—Joan B. Landes, Walter L. and Helen Ferree Professor of Early Modern History and Women’s Studies Emerita, Pennsylvania State University.
Breathtaking in its depiction of a different era and mores, Yaw Agawu-Kakraba’s The Restless Crucible weaves a fascinating tapestry of intriguing and vivid landscapes while presenting an insightful understanding of the protagonists’ personal and individual motives for overcoming the pernicious status quo. A magnificent read!
–-Arthur J Hughes, Professor of Spanish and Director or Latin American Studies, Ohio University
Agawu-Kakraba’s novel is ambitious in scope and rich in detail. The Restless Crucible is full of the stuff that makes compelling stories: characters behaving badly, and occasionally redeeming themselves, in a well-rendered setting and world. Go on this word journey. Ready yourself for some surprises.
—Steven Sherrill, author of The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, Joy PA, and much more.
In The Restless Crucible, Yaw Agawu-Kakraba succeeds in creating a fast-moving, can’t put down, palimpsest that drills deep into the minds and souls of the characters who created and those who suffered one of colonialism’s darkest horrors: slavery. Traveling to three continents we viscerally experience some characters’ fight to survive, bring down slavery, and to thrive; others who violently fight to maintain systems that still haunt and divide us today.
—Roselyn Costantino, Spanish, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies & Latin American Studies Professor Emerita, Pennsylvania State University
This is African storytelling at its best! This captivating novel offers a new understanding and appreciation of the Afro-Brazilian experience as it interweaves first-person renderings with historical facts. An enjoyable read of the African Diaspora experience in Brazil!
–-Henry Codjoe, Director of Institutional Research and Assessment, Dalton State College