... a tour de force: by far the most complete, authoritative and persuasive biography of Toussaint that we are likely to have for a long time. It is not without its own very strong point of view, presenting Toussaint above all as a fierce and effective opponent of slavery. But it is at times an extraordinarily gripping read ... The book is grounded in a remarkable job of research. Hazareesingh has scoured archives in France, Britain, the US and Spain (not Haiti itself, where, regrettably, relatively little material has survived). He has not been able to resolve some of the greatest open questions about Toussaint, such as whether the black leader plotted the slave rebellion at the behest of French royalists, who hoped it would undercut moves towards independence by white landowners. Rumours to this effect have circulated since the events themselves. Hazareesingh does not believe them, but has little new evidence. However thanks above all to new soundings in the French colonial archives, including both the correspondence of French officials and records of the colonial administration, he has provided a far richer portrait of Toussaint’s years in power than was previously available. Ten of 12 chapters deal with these later years ... [Hazareesingh's] admiration does lead him to skate lightly over the most troubling aspects of Toussaint’s career.
... expertly crafted ... brings a fresh interpretation to the man himself, while dancing skillfully around the more controversial—and unsavory—aspects of his rule during the years spanning the Haitian Revolution of 1791 and the Haitian War of Independence in 1802 ... While there are gaps in Louverture’s early historical record, Hazareesingh creatively addresses this research obstacle by expanding on the social and cultural history of Saint-Domingue, giving us a glimpse into the world that shaped young Toussaint ... Perhaps the most effective way to deal with the messier aspects of Louverture—his owning of slaves, his later authoritarian acts, and even his white mistresses—is to approach the intellectual interiority of the man, which is exactly what Hazareesingh does in fascinating detail. Using recently uncovered documents in British, French, and Spanish archives, he dives into the deep pool of Louverture’s mind ... a well-written, if slightly hagiographic, addition to Louverture historiography. With a wealth of previously undiscovered documents shedding new light on his beliefs and intellectual passions, we get a bit closer to this intriguing man who helped free a nation.
A difficult task indeed — which makes Sudhir Hazareesingh’s Black Spartacus all the more remarkable. The Oxford academic deftly tells the byzantine and fragmented history to paint perhaps the sharpest portrait yet of Louverture ... While previous attempts have often misinterpreted Louverture’s deep relationships with the Europeans as some kind of racial or revolutionary betrayal, Hazareesingh illuminates his subject’s ability to incorporate political and military strategies from various cultures and recast them in a more powerful form. This insight provides a road map to understanding why the actions for which Louverture has been most criticised are what made him so effective ... provides new and important insights into seminal events such as the initial insurrection of 1791 ... If one were to quibble with Hazareesingh, it might be with the light attention paid to some of the other central characters such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian general and later ruler, as we never fully understand his motivations or the reason behind his ultimate betrayal of Louverture. Ultimately, however, Black Spartacus is a triumph. It takes a nearly impossibly complex history and weaves it into a compelling and accurate narrative that reads like fiction.
British-Mauritian writer Sudhir Hazareesingh writes a mesmerizing biography of fellow creole Toussaint Louverture ... Out of a morass of archival documents, especially of Toussaint’s own letters, Hazareesingh proves that Toussaint’s life and achievements were not only revolutionary but also compassionate, humane, fraternal, and respected by all communities of his beloved Saint-Domingue (soon to be renamed Haiti), which miraculously included the white plantation owners ... Hazareesingh writes beautifully about why Toussaint fought for three different sides: rebellious slaves Jean-François and Biassou; the Spanish; and then the French.
Hazareesingh has managed to write an outstanding biography that breaks fresh ground and scrapes the crust of folklore, and cliché, from the Toussaint story ... The fast-moving events of the 1790s in Saint-Domingue take a lot of unpacking. Hazareesingh smartly balances a twisty narrative with wider analysis of the forces and ideas at work ... His scrupulous and absorbing biography not only portrays Toussaint the swashbuckling hero. It celebrates the philosopher.
Hazareesingh’s engrossing new life tells the story of how the enigmatic, deeply religious boy from Bréda came to be one of the most celebrated, feared and consequential political leaders of his generation ... the story of an island as well as a man ... aims to make sense of these divergent stances by 'painting a coherent picture of [Louverture’s] political values.' Mr. Hazareesingh is not the first to try...Mr. Hazareesingh brings to the task a voracious appetite for original sources and a discerning ear for those which have the ring of truth. He also has a gift for tracing those threads that reveal a previously unrecognized pattern in the fabric of a life ... The contribution of Black Spartacus is to show how Louverture’s political creed emerged from a compound of the Catholic, Enlightenment and African influences that surrounded the young Toussaint ... The tightly focused camerawork in Black Spartacus, which allows us to see Louverture so clearly, nonetheless has the disadvantage of leaving other important figures out of the frame. The book gives fairly cursory treatment to André Rigaud, Louverture’s archrival in the south, and to Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe, Louverture’s onetime lieutenants and the first leaders of independent Haiti. There is also a paucity of perspectives 'from below': We learn little about the ordinary former slaves who powered Louverture’s rise—and, at times, opposed it.
... superb ... not a dry academic work...with rare narrative verve, Hazareesingh conjures his subject’s extraordinary life ... In concisely written pages, Hazareesingh rescues Louverture from the ideological and political aggrandisements that so often misrepresented him in the past ... Hazareesingh is careful to return Louverture to the primary sources.
Hazareesingh is a fervent admirer and there is more than a touch of hagiography in this eminently scholarly biography. His fairly consistent assumption throughout is that his hero had always been the admirable model of revolutionary rectitude that the more solid documentary evidence of his later activities gives us. Toussaint was certainly a man of presence and organisational ability, but the available sources suggest that he only emerged clearly as a leader in 1793, when what had formerly been the richest colony in the world had already experienced several years of increasing chaos.
... deeply researched, energetic, and comprehensively re-envisioned ... As conversant as Hazareesingh is in the dramatic and snarled political and military history at play in this treacherous and righteous war for liberty, it is Toussaint’s character and abilities, gleaned from overlooked archival sources, including Toussaint’s own writings, that shine here ... here, vividly and invaluably, is Toussaint Louverture in full.
This is a balanced, yet sympathetic, biography which throws light on Toussaint’s personality and acknowledges the importance of his political ideals. It refutes those historians who have sought to place him uniquely in a French Enlightenment and republican tradition, arguing that much of his inspiration came from the Caribbean and from his experience of slavery as a young man. But there were other influences, too ... Toussaint is now a global figure, a byword for Black empowerment, and as such he has become a hero for our times.
The narrative takes wing in these climactic sections. Elsewhere, for all the detailed analysis, you do find yourself longing for some of the declamatory, dramatic prose of CLR James. There is timeless poetry in Louverture’s rise and fall.
Black Spartacus is the story of Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution, and a meditation on how the struggle against white supremacy and racism is one of the oldest of the human race. Slavery has ended, and empires are no more, but racism still endures. And so reading about
Louverture is edifying—because when slavery was nally abolished, it was
done out of political necessity, not on principle ... Louverture emerges as the only principled hero of the Haitian Revolution of 1791 to 1804; the republicans, monarchists, mixed-race allies, and even Black allies of the revolution pale in comparison to Louverture’s natural
intelligence and capable war strategy ... Hazareesingh reclaims Louverture from the French for
Blacks and for people of color. In doing so he presents to us a portrait of an original revolutionary whose self-worth and philosophy were formed by his African ancestry—his Creole and Christian values—and who fought in the name of his philosophy and his vision of an equal Saint-Domingue, where every race lived in freedom.
Lustrous pearls scattered throughout Black Spartacus, turn this detailed, blow-by-blow account of Toussaint’s military exploits into a dazzling, complicated narrative. They add romance and family intrigue to a plot that is also dotted with Toussaint’s own writing, which will be appreciated by those who have never heard his worldly, arrogant and eloquent voice ... There are almost no stories that can compete with Toussaint’s, as Hazareesingh’s exciting narrative proves ... Hazareesingh gives us a breathtaking picture of the decade of Toussaint’s dream—a dream unlike any other, and one that must never be forgotten, because it still awaits its finale.
Tracing the growth of Louverture from revolutionary leader to mythic figure, this engrossing read reveals and recovers the historic place both he and the country of Haiti deserve to occupy in the story of the Atlantic world’s creation and re-creation.
The author losely examines the many contradictory accounts of Toussaint’s dealings before and after this key date, as he served as a mediating force between the slaves and the White masters ... Though not entirely accessible to general readers, the book is evenhanded in its treatment of Toussaint and will be a useful addition to library collections ... A knowledgeable biography that carefully considers the nuances of Toussaint’s character and the legends that surround him.