For this harrowing story of white captives in 18th-century Morocco, Milton (author of the highly praised Nathaniel's Nutmeg) draws primarily on the memoir of a Cornish cabin boy, Thomas Pellow, who was taken by Islamic pirates in 1716 and sold as a slave to the legendarily tyrannical Sultan Moulay Ismail. Pellow remained in Morocco for more than 20 years, his family barely recognizing him when he at last escaped home. Placing Pellow's tale within wider horizons, Milton describes how, during the 17th and 18th centuries, thousands of European captives were snatched from their coastal villages by Islamic slave traders intent on waging war on Christendom. Put into forced labor and appalling living conditions, they perished in huge numbers. As a pragmatic convert to Islam, Pellow fared better, earning a wife who bore him a daughter. Milton includes Pellow's years as a soldier in Moulay Ismail's army and draws out his cliff-hanging escape back to England. Pellow's sensational tale dominates the book, and though rendered in seductively poised prose, in the end it feels short on ideas and argument. Milton also fails to cite other historians working in this area (a prime example being Linda Colley). 16 pages of b&w illus. not seen by PW; 2 maps.
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The horrors of the transatlantic slave trade have been extensively documented in print and eloquently portrayed on film and television. But chattel slavery was a well-established African as well as European institution, and its victims were not exclusively people of color. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, the Barbary states of North Africa used Islamic pirates, or corsairs, to conduct slave raids, which fed the flourishing slave markets of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Many of the enslaved were white Europeans or North Americans captured at sea. Among them was Thomas Pellow, an 11-year-old English child who was seized in 1716 and served for 23 years as a personal servant to Sultan Moulay Ismail of Morocco. Milton relates Pellow's compelling story as a triumph of wile, pluck, and endurance; but this is also a tale of great brutality and suffering, as Milton eloquently shows that all of the indignities one associates with European and American slavery were visited upon those held in North Africa. A riveting account. Jay Freeman
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