#BookReview — A Thin Porridge by Benjamin Gohs
A Thin Porridge
By Benjamin J. Gohs
When 19-year-old Abeona Browne's renowned abolitionist father Jon Browne dies in summer of 1860, devastating family secrets are revealed, and her life of privilege and naiveté in Southern Michigan becomes a frantic transatlantic search for someone she didn't even know existed.
Still in mourning, Abeona sneaks aboard the ship carrying her father’s attorney Terrence Swifte and his assistant Djimon—a young man with his own secrets—on a quest to fulfill a dying wish.
Along the journey, Abeona learns of her father’s tragic and terrible past through a collection of letters intended for someone he lost long ago.
Passage to the Dark Continent is fraught with wild beasts, raging storms, illness, and the bounty hunters who know Jon Browne’s diaries are filled with damning secrets which could threaten the very anti-slavery movement he helped to build.
Can Abeona overcome antebellum attitudes and triumph over her own fears to right the wrongs in her famous family’s sordid past?
A Thin Porridge is a Homeric tale of second chances, forgiveness, and adventure that will whisk readers from the filth of tweendecks, into the treachery of Cameroons Town, across the beauty of Table Bay, and deep into the heart of the fynbos—where Boer miners continue the outlawed scourge of slavery.
"There lies dying, at this very moment, a man of a certain repute, of whom readers shall soon be shocked to learn is as undeserved as the truth is surprising…"
But no one would be as shocked as his daughter, Abeona Browne.
It is said that you never really know someone, and yet, Abeona had been so sure of her father, Jon Browne. He was her world, her everything, but now he has gone on to higher things and has left Abeona with a terrible realisation that she had never really known him at all.
Through his diaries, Abeona discovers a dark past. It is one of suffering, slavery, unexpected power, sacrifice and death. As her father falls off the pedestal that she had so carefully placed him upon, Abeona is determined that what she has discovered will remain a secret forever. However, there are those who will go to any length to discredit a renowned abolitionist, and they will follow her to the very plains of Africa to do so.
From a tragic death to an adventure of a lifetime, A Thin Porridge by Benjamin J. Gohs is the story of one young woman's fight to not only reunite her family but to save the abolitionist cause.
With a stirring narrative that left me fearing for the protagonist's life on more than one occasion and an almost crystalline prose that hooked me from the opening chapter, A Thin Porridge is the kind of book that readers of quality Historical Fiction can get very excited about. Set in both America and Africa in the 1800s, Gohs transports his readers to a new and dangerous world, where the sharks close in on their prey, and the lions sharpen their claws in preparation for the hunt. Gohs has breathed new life into a world where an economy ran on the suffering of human misery. He has also demonstrated how one person could make a difference even in the face of impossible odds.
Gohs' tenacious devotion to the historical detail has to be commended. From Southern Michigan to the fynbos of South Africa, Gohs has given his readers a glimpse into a shameful past that is filled with suffering, abuse, but strangely also hope. With a vivid stroke of the quill, Gohs has captured the very essence of what Africa was like in the 1800s — from the despair of the slave market to the indisputable beauty of the endless grasslands. This is a book that also captures every single one of the senses. I could almost feel the heat of the midday sun, and the torment of the mosquitos. I could see the richness of the landscape and admire the majesty of the wildlife. Likewise, life on board the S.S. Elsie-Marie was depicted with an honest sense of realism. The squalor and almost prison-like treatment of those in steerage and the grandeur of life for those in first-class clearly demonstrated the vast difference in the social class structure during this time. I can only imagine the long hours of research that went into this book, but it was certainly worth it. Kudos, Mr Gohs. Kudos, indeed.
The heroine of this tale is the young Abeona Browne. In an era where her people were still slaves, Abeona's life had been one of privilege — yes, some white folk may well look down their noses at her and whisper behind their hands, but Abeona was as good as they were, as educated, as wealthy. However, despite her father's passion for his cause, she soon came to realise after his death, as to how much he had sheltered her from the darker side of human nature. Her belief in her own abilities and her seemingly irrevocable grief leads her to make some incredibly rash decisions which teach her some very harsh lessons not only about life but about racial inequality. This naïvety seemed, at times, almost out of place in a country which would soon be torn apart by a bloody civil war, however, I can understand why Gohs decided to portray Abeona in such a way — the shock when she experiences something far worse than a whisper behind a hand teaches her humility in a way no cold lecture could have ever effectively delivered. Initially, I have to admit, I found it incredibly hard to connect with Abeona. She certainly roused my sympathy with her seemingly unbearable grief, but her treatment of Uncle George and her rude and almost spiteful behaviour made her rather unlikeable. However, as the story progresses, as Abeona's eyes are opened, she becomes a protagonist that a reader can really get behind and root for. The situation that Abeona finds herself in means she has to mature very quickly, and it gives her a deeper appreciation of how fortunate she was to grow up, not only with her freedom but with a father who was influential to the abolitionist cause of freeing those in bondage. Although Abeona feels betrayed by her father's secrets, she will do everything possible to keep her father's secrets from ever being made public. Aboena could have given up her father diaries to those who are desperate to discredit him, but she knows that if she does, then everything he worked for would be put into jeopardy and that she could not allow. Aboena became a woman that I deeply admired, and her story is one I immensely enjoyed.
There are several secondary characters in this book, all of which have a part to play in this performance of lies, truths, and abolition. The ageing lawyer, Terence Swifte, is determined to deliver the diaries to the person whom Jon Browne had entrusted them to in his will despite what personal discomforts such an endeavour means for him. Likewise, he is equally committed to Abeona's welfare — even though that was not part of the original bequest! Likewise, Swifte's assistant, Djimon, also helps to drive this story forward. I thought Djimon depiction was absolutely fabulous. His and Aboena's relationship is complicated and wrapped up in a blanket of emotional uncertainty. Djimon becomes an unlikely hero as he battles not only to keep his employer alive but Abeona as well.
The antagonists in this novel bring something new and sinister to add to this story of discovery. I thought the portrayal of Dubious Grimmis was richly detailed in the telling as was the depiction of Mr Clovis, the King of Tweendecks, on board the S.S. Elsie-Marie.
A Thin Porridge by Benjamin J. Gohs is a book that keeps on giving. The hours flew by as I lost myself in this sprawling and emotionally poignant story of one young woman as she desperately battles to hide the truth while at the same time, trying hard to come to terms with it. This is the kind of book that demands your respect and certainly deserves a place on your bookshelf. I loved every minute of it.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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A Thin Porridge
Benjamin J. Gohs writes dark literary novels about sympathetic losers struggling to survive in a hostile world.
After graduating high school in 1993, Benjamin went on to work at just about everything from cooking and auto repair to dealing blackjack and being attacked by protection dogs. In 2003, Benjamin began freelance writing and worked his way into a full-time reporter job in 2005 which led to his first editorship.
Benjamin now divides his time between writing novels and managing the print + digital community newspaper he co-founded in 2009.