Sunday, September 11, 2005


47 by by Walter Mosley, 2005

What if a visitor from another world/universe/galaxy arrived on Earth, in the American South, during the 1800's? This is the premise of Walter Mosley's first YA novel. Goddess of YA Lit, Teri Lesesne pointed me towards the audio version of this book when she recounted sitting in the driveway at her home, unable to get out of the car, because she and her family were so immersed in this story.

The teenage protagonist has been protected from the brutal realities of slave life for approximately 14 years by his surrogate mother
Big Mama Flore. When he is sent to work in the fields, he is branded with the number 47 which becomes his only name.

He encounters Tall John, a run away slave who implies he has been looking for 47 for a long time and the two are already linked in friendship and spirit. Tall John instructs 47 to "neither master nor nigger be!" He demands that 47 reject his acceptance of slavery and begin to look at the world and the universe through new eyes.

47 marvels at Tall John's magic yellow bag which can conceal them from enemies and heal their wounds and learns that Tall John is from another world. He is fighting beings called the Calash who are present on Earth in human form and 47 has been called to free his own people from the anathema of slavery and to fight the other forms Evil takes throughout the ages.

Initially I had some difficulty catching all of Ossie Davis's narration but now I cannot fathom experiencing this book in any other way. Davis is the voice and heart of this story.

Part historical fiction, part sci-fi, part folk tale and legend, 47 is one of the most original stories I have experienced.

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