47 is a delicate work that will make anyone identify with being a slave in pre-Civil War Georgia. It's Uncle Tom's Cabin for the 21st century with a different message, be neither master nor slave . . . be a free person who makes good moral judgments and does the right thing even under the worst circumstances.
It would be easy for those who read the book's opening to focus on old wrongs rather than valuing freedom to choose. Mr. Mosley heads off that risk by adding a science fiction character, Tall John, from another part of the universe who needs to learn about the realities of slavery while 47 (the unnamed slave who had his number branded into his shoulder) learns about the world beyond his plantation.
The book sets up terrific ethical conflicts such as choosing between saving oneself and saving someone else who you love . . . and someone you only feel an obligation towards. I'm sure every reader feels tugged in both directions at the same time. It's a wonderful exercise in ethics.
I was impressed by how much history Mr. Mosley was able to build into his story while upholding timeless human values as a contrast. It's a very powerful story. I hope he will do more like this one.
Bravo, Maestro Mosley!
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Profound Enough for All AgesJuly 7 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
"Neither master nor nigger be."
Powerful words. And a prominent theme running through the remarkable book, 47 by Walter Mosley, an African-American writer best known for his Easy Rawlins series of detective novels-one of which, "Devil in a Blue Dress"-was made into a major motion picture starring Denzel Washington.
This is Mosley's first novel for young adults, but there's plenty in 47 for a grown-up to ponder. Set on a cotton plantation in the South in 1832, it is the first person narrative of "47", a 14-year old slave, brand new to the fields, as he's just gotten big enough to work (slaves don't receive names, only numbers). The up-close look at the institution from this particular perspective is a revelation. Using his hero as an instrument, Mosley describes the physical, psychological and emotional effects the "lifestyle" has on those in its clutches, and who have known nothing else. He does it in simple, stark, powerful words. The reader sees the deep and lasting effect of being raised from birth in a society that is convinced you are inferior, is in your face about it, and has engineered an entire society based on the fact.
I don't have room for details, but rest assured that 47 is an intelligent, heroic young man, capable of great feats of bravery and compassion, as he proves time and time again in the course of the novel. Yet even though this is the case, halfway through the book he still honestly believes, that "All I knew was how to be lazy and how to work like a dog." When he has to kill a white man in self-defense, he immediately looks up to the sky "looking for God's retribution". These and other like insights add up to create a powerful indictment of societal conditioning, and illuminate the folly of judging a people as intrinsically inferior. Where Mosley's genius shines through is that these perceptions never seem forced. We don't feel preached at. Instead, he makes such thoughts and feelings an integral part of characters we care for, which makes the attitudes all the more stunning.
One of Mosley's main purposes in writing this book is to let young black people hear a voice contrary to society's negative stereotypes regarding their culture and heritage-to assist them in forming pride regarding who they are and where they come from. This includes issues of image and beauty. For example, our hero is absolutely smitten with Eloise, the white slave master's daughter, whom he considers "the most beautiful girl in the world." This is a marked contrast to how he views women of his own race. One in particular, 84, he describes as being "black and ugly with nappy hair and liver lips. She couldn't hold a candle to Miss Eloise." Only after spending time listening to the mysterious russet-colored stranger, Tall John "from beyond Africa" (more on him in a minute) does 47 begin to see the beauty of 84 and other females working the fields.
Oh, and it's a science fiction novel, too.
Tall John, whom we first meet as a runaway slave with an uncanny ability to heal the sick, turns out to be a visitor from another planet, who is here to liberate 47 and steer him toward his destiny as no less than the savior of the universe. The interstellar enemy here are the Calash, giant albino tentacled things that are right out of a pulp magazine. They're from Tall John's home planet, a planet that we visit by way of 47's visions. It's a colorful landscape-quite literally-as Tall John in his true form is part of an interplanetary race as varied and bright in hue as the rainbow.
Turns out the Calash can make themselves look like normal people and are working on planet earth, along with their zombie-like human agents. Part of the exciting climax of the story is how 47 steps up to the challenge of saving the world with the help of Tall John and a handful of slaves. The suspense is doubled because all of our heroes have become runaway slaves in the process, which means that they are in constant danger of being caught by their owners (and Mosley does not flinch in showing the bloody horror that transpires when a slave does get caught and is brought to the master's "killin' shack").
As I am a bit of a genre enthusiast, I was somewhat surprised that I found myself distracted by the more far-out plot points, which surface most prominently in the last third of the book. Mosley explores such substantial themes in the first two-thirds of the story, that the most overt science fiction and fantasy elements seem lightweight and clichéd by comparison. Tall John is a more compelling character when he is the mysterious stranger who shatters 47's perceptions about himself and his people. When he fully reveals himself and recruits 47 to be the point man for a kind of Battle Beyond the Stars, it feels somewhat trite and anti-climactic, if not a little tacked on.
However, if this kind of sub-plot is what it takes for young people to digest this book, then I say more power to the writer. The book has an important message, and it needs to be conveyed to impressionable minds however it can. The book is set up so sequels could easily be written, and it would be interesting to see where Mosley would take the story.
"Never say master. Not unless you are looking inward or up beyond the void."
It's a message for everyone, especially in this day and age.
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A Heartfelt Work of FictionJune 8 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
I listened to the Unabridged Audio version of "47", narrated by the late, great Ossie Davis. It was a wonderful experience. The story although aimed toward young teen audiences, is not too simple for adults to enjoy. This story is a heartfelt introduction to slavery for today's youth (to whom many this history is forgotten.) Kudos to Mr. Mosley for taking on such a tough subject; and for the foresight to aim it to a young audience.
On another note, Ossie Davis did an outstanding job with the narrative; I will always treasure this as one of his great works of art.
-- P. Walker-Williams, PageTurner.net
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An unusual bookMarch 2 2006
A Kid's Review
- Published on Amazon.com
47 is a strange, interesting book. It's part history of slavery in America, and part science fiction with a mysterious ET. What's even stranger is that the odd combination works. 47 is a 14 year old slave back in 1832. He's always out in the cotton fields picking cotton, feeling sorry for himself. Along come a mysterious stranger named Tall John. 47 thinks Tall John is a slave too, until he finds out that the stranger is really an alien from another world, with unusual powers. At first 47 assumes that Tall John is there to free him and the other slaves, but Tall John is really there to help 47 fight against the Calash, enemies of Tall John's race from his home planet. Capable of making themselves look exactly like humans, they are controlling real humans and must be defeated. 47 turns out to be brave and bold (as Tall John knew all along) and he and other slaves rise up against the Calash and save our world. By living up to his potential and full abilities, 47 shows that no matter who you are, adversity can be overcome with courage and conviction. Another book I read with a similar theme is An Audience for Einstein, a story about a 12 year old who is also helped to overcome great odds.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I wanted to like itJan. 8 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
Walter Mosley gets an 'A' for originality and a 'C' for execution on this one. If he had pared back the sci-fi a little bit, it would have been outstanding, but when Tall John begins naming all the beings in his world, the story gets bogged down in the minutia. I wanted less of the Quesziastril, Calash, and Talam. I wanted more of the legend of John the Conqueror. I wanted to be bound up in the tale, as a Mosley offering will usually do, but when I had to stop to decipher which extraterrestrial was which, I lost the flow of 47's narrative.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Timeless...Dec 30 2005
The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
- Published on Amazon.com
Walter Mosley is likely to capture a new generation of readers and fans with his first book for young adult readers, 47. The story is a mix of history, mythology (particularly the story of Tall John the Conqueror), and science fiction that is sure to become a timeless classic. The book title is derived from the name and number of its main character, 47. He opens the book by explaining that he has been the same age for the last 170 years, and as the story unfolds, he sets about explaining how.
47 lived a relatively sheltered life as a slave until he was put to work in the cotton fields. Tired from being overworked in the fields, isolated because other field slaves felt he has had it too easy in life, and hurt by his sense of betrayal because the woman who raised him, Big Mama, wouldn't keep him out of the fields, 47 feels dejected, alone and exhausted. All that changes when he meets what he initially thinks is a runaway slave, but later learns is an extraterrestrial being, Tall John. Tall John, who is from beyond Africa, has supernatural powers and has come to help 47 fulfill his destiny. The two form an immediate bond, and in spite of the fact that it takes 47 a while to realize it, fate has brought them together. 47 is awestruck, not only by Tall John's powers, but also by his strength, and for a while he believes that Tall John has come to save him and other slaves. Little does he know, Tall John is only a teacher, sent to share his wisdom, and to prepare 47 so he can someday realize his full potential.
This book is one that is difficult to review because it does so much so well. Mosley seamlessly merges history and fantasy and the result is a page turner that will leave you breathless. While this book was written with a young adult audience in mind, adults are sure to love it as well. The plot is intelligent, thought provoking and a true testament to Mosley's creative mind. The characters are thoroughly and thoughtfully drawn, so much so, that even when they accomplish unfathomable feats, such as flying, it is believable. Rarely can you find a book that will inspire both young and old to think, feel, and most importantly, dream like 47.