Small Bodies

Wendy Brandmark

  • Theory of War by Joan Brady
    Deutsch, 209 pp, £14.99, January 1993, ISBN 0 233 38810 9
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
    Bloomsbury, 250 pp, £15.99, June 1993, ISBN 0 7475 1466 6

In Theory of War, Joan Brady reveals a little-known piece of American history that has dominated her own life. In the chaos after the Civil War, white children, the sons and daughters of impoverished widows, of ragged soldiers, were sold into virtual slavery. Black slaves – who had been expensive – had just been liberated. These white children, ‘a crop of kids nobody wanted’, could be bought cheaply, with few questions asked. Jonathan Carrick is probably not more than four years old, a chatty, active, bright-eyed little boy, when he is sold to Alvah Stokes, a struggling tobacco farmer, a man brutal but shrewd. Alvah beats him into silence, denies him an education and forces him to work from dawn to dusk in the tobacco fields. When Jonathan tries to escape, the local shopkeeper who had arranged the sale gives him some advice: ‘Grow up fast.’ No one in the town can do anything to stop the family’s abuse of the boy. To Alvah’s son George, Jonathan is no better than a cow or a shipment of tobacco: ‘You ain’t even human. Never will be. Your pa sold you. My pa bought you. You’re a commodity.’

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