Turn off the cap and just enjoy the story

On May 2, 2018 on Amazon | 4.0 out of 5 stars

By Winston J. Phillips 

Format: Kindle Edition | Verified Purchase

I am intrigued as to why this book is called “’That” Woman: Beating the odds in colonial New York” and not ‘this’ woman, or something like ‘Woman Rising!’ Anyway, the book is about the fall and rise a young Jewish woman, Sarah Da Silva. Sarah and Jacob lived in Bordeaux, France, assisting their father, a trader, with the accounts of his business. The business fails, and while waiting for him on the docks, Sarah (then 17) and Jacob are kidnapped at knifepoint, shipped to New York, and sold as indentured servants. The story is about their survival among dark difficulties, especially for Sarah, and rising from the ashes through gumption and resourcefulness.

Sarah faces her difficulties with aplomb. Their mother dies then her father’s business. Sarah has some doubt about the role of her father in their abduction. The conditions are depressing and scary as they become part of a larger crowd being abducted to be sold in New York as slaves or indentured servants. Their closeness to each other proved to be an asset especially on the ship, but also throughout the story. The Captain of the ship have them sign over their lives to him to do with them what he wills. He sees opportunities to utilize their accounting capabilities on board; and even more profit in New York from their language capabilities, and other skills.

Sarah faces events that help to strengthen her character one already with some merit. She faces down the captain; births a dying woman’s baby; and studies the Captain’s ways and whims. Gradually, their work extends to ship documents, some of which are compromising to the Captain. With deep discernment, Sarah sees opportunities to hold these against him later.

Sarah is sold to a wealthy and greedy merchant, Zachariah Croman, who rules the New York waterfront, and the trades. For two years she is separated from her brother, who is sold to an engraver. The real story starts here. During that time, she is abused by Croman until she could take no more. She holds a knife to his throat, and forces him to sign her freedom papers, and to provide her with house and stocked warehouse for business. She is doing well until Croman’s henchmen burns down her warehouse and home.

This is grist for her resoluteness – to start over again; and this she does with the assistance of friends, and being an accomplice, and gainer of the benefits of illegal actions. In the end, she causes Croman and the captain to disappear from New York. Her brother also prospers doing some things that are also illegal.

Let us for our purposes here recognize actions as ‘illegal’ but have become so prominent and unencumbered that they are commonly accepted. The NY docks in the story is virtually a world unto itself in which duplicity and bribery rules the day. I would guess that to succeed in that environment, one must necessarily engage in the required activities, and that Sarah was astute enough to recognize that “where ignorance is bliss; tis folly to be wise”. And she and her brother succeed with the help of friends, especially Noah, a free black longshoreman, and his band. Noah had rescued Sarah when she was on the verge of personal collapse.

I enjoyed reading this book. The book is well-written and engaging as one follows the fortunes of Sarah and Jacob. I like how the author interweaves weaves the locations and cultures of the cities and docks into the story. This allowed the reader to have perspective for the actions of the main characters, as well as to enjoy historical content.

But I have some reservations with the plot of the story. Sarah shows a resolute character, but it is one without sting or brashness; almost magical. The face on the cover picture is alluring rather than “hard as nails”. Yet she was able to easily confront and win over liars and thieves, and murderous men. Croman is more then twice her size, yet she can get a knife to his throat and have him provide and sign papers…without a struggle. I recognize that the story is fictional, but believability is an asset to any book. Further, I think that Noah could have been provided more commendation for his supportive activities – seems he did all that for the good of his soul. A question: did Sarah’s father sell them to the Captain?? And why did Sarah not become pregnant?

There are others that you might find… but I recommend you turn off the cap and just enjoy the story.

Wayne is a Montreal based writer, editor and translator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *