Kars is transparent about the problematic nature of the testimonies, in which captured rebels were asked by a trio of hostile plantation owners about what transpired during the rebellion ... a sweeping, thoughtful narrative, joining a new wave of books that make visible previously dismissed Black voices ... Particularly fascinating to me were the stories on the edges of the conflict ... What Kars does so well is tell this story in such a way that all the facts are in place, but many more stories might be imagined. Coffij emerges as the brilliant, tragic hero of a lost legend that happens to be true.
... comes alive with period illustrations, as well as meticulous attention to primary sources. Kars recounts a tale of oppression, bloodshed, and some triumph; rebelling slaves held off their masters for nearly a year ... a gripping tale about the human need for freedom. It is also a story of shifting loyalties among slaves from differing backgrounds, between slaves and Amerindians, and among the Europeans themselves ... While Kars did not set out to write cultural history, readers may have trouble retaining the minutiae she so carefully presents. However, because her scrupulous research provides spellbinding detail, perhaps that is beside the point ... The story of the Berbice Rebellion begs to be told, and Kars' telling is impressive.
... deeply researched ... Meticulously sourced and careful to prioritize the perspectives of the marginalized, Blood on the River offers a fascinating glimpse of the complex history of slavery in the Americas.
A microhistory of scholarly significance, this action-packed book enlarges understanding of the New World’s history in the era of international conflict on the eve of transformative Western revolutions ... Every historian hopes to stumble on records that alter understanding of the past. Through industry and luck, Kars, a historian of slavery, has done just that. Her discovery of never-used Dutch archives informs this tale of a previously unknown slave uprising on South America’s northern coast. Written in lively, detailed prose, the narrative offers fresh looks at slavery in the New World and, equally important, slaves’ efforts to free themselves from bondage ... It’s these voices, and Kars’ skill in bringing them to life, that keeps the text from being a dry academic study. So, too, does the story’s classic tragic arc: dashes for freedom, alliances between slaves and Indigenous tribes, in-fighting and betrayals, heroic leaders, barbarities on all sides, and deflating defeat ... A riveting addition to the history of the search for freedom in the Americas.
... vivid and accessible ... Kars recreates daily life on coffee, cacao, and sugar plantations in the remote colony, where slaves 'hugely outnumbered' whites and those who tried to escape into the surrounding jungle were brutally punished; notes the impact of frequent dysentery outbreaks on both the enslaved and European communities; and explains differences of opinion among rebel leaders on what freedom would look like. With careful research and a globalist perspective, Kars convincingly argues that the Berbice uprising portended aspects of the American, French, and Haitian revolutions. This striking study unearths a meaningful chapter in the history of slavery.