Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Book Review: A Crime So Monstrous

"There are more slaves in the world today than at any time in history." Stop to really think about the meaning of that sentence. In today's society, we abuse certain words so much that their original meaning no longer affects us. On example would be the word hate. Hate is dropped so much in talking with one another, on TV, and even in papers, that it no longer has the same meaning it once did. The words slavery and slave have also fallen victim to overuse. In the above sentence, a quote from A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery, the author isn't talking about union workers not making enough money. He isn't talking about evil Republicans being "slaves" to the oil industry. He isn't even talking about children working in sweat shops for a few cents a day. In this context, slaves are, "…human beings forced to work, under threat of violence, for no pay…" In this context we are talking about slaves in the classical sense. A mental image of a person in chains with no hope for ever seeing a better future might be a more accurate picture.

Now that we have defined the word slave, the first sentence is worth repeating. "There are more slaves in the world today than at any time in history." To me, that is simply a stunning statement. The website Free the Slaves estimates there are 27 million slaves in the world today. I became interested in this topic after reading a novel devoted to slavery in today's world. The author noted at the end that the book was based on a real slave story he covered as a journalist. I couldn't believe that something like this existed. And if it did exist, surely it was only still practiced in remote parts of the world.

As I started reading A Crime So Monstrous by E. Benjamin Skinner, a news story broke just outside of Atlanta. A local sheriff and his wife were arrested for keeping a slave from India in their house to act as a nanny for their children. According to U.S. Attorney David Nahmias (as originally quoted in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution), "This type of abuse is insidious, as it preys upon those who are vulnerable due to their immigration status and unfamiliarity with this country's legal system." The nanny was able to escape thanks to the help of some neighbors. Mr. Skinner opens his book with a story of slavery in Haiti, complete with a walk through of how easy it is for anyone to buy a child in Haiti. His point is that,"… 600 miles from the United States, and five hours from the desk of the UN Secretary-General, you have successfully bargained a human being down to the price of cab fare to JFK." While reading this book, the Atlanta slavery story broke. That story took place about a 45 minute car ride from my house.

Mr. Skinner interviewed a number of current and former slaves for his book. He travels around the globe and in many cases puts his life in danger to follow the story. At 295 pages, the book is a very easy read. I read the last 100 pages in a single night because I couldn't put the book down. The notes at the end are well documented, and the author provides a list of sources where you can get more information on modern day slavery. I would recommend this book to all of my readers. I am also adding a link to the Free the Slave website for any interested in more information on slavery.


Christina said...

Though my blog deals w/early American history, one of my main sources for info is a book about George Washington and his slaves, as well as the Revolutionary War. Somehow reading about that, over the past few years, I am finding a strong interest in better understanding slavery growing deep in my spirit. This book and the website sound profound indeed.
Thank you for letting us know about about A Crime So Monstrous .

Andy D said...

One of the reasons I picked this book up was because I kept seeing stories in the news about slavery. Like you, it was a topic that just seemed to call to me.