It's 1746 and Georgian London is not a safe place for a young Black man. Charles Ignatius Sancho must dodge slave catchers and worse, and his main ally--a kindly duke who taught him to write--is dying. Sancho is desperate and utterly alone. So how does the same Charles Ignatius Sancho meet the king, write and play highly acclaimed music, become the first Black person to vote in Britain, and lead the fight to end slavery?
If one may quibble... objection could be made to a bit too much jumping back and forth in time, and perhaps to the whole conceit that the diaries are being sent, inside a letter full of 'retrospective interjections,' to Sancho’s youngest son, Billy ... But thanks to Joseph, Sancho — in whatever rhetorical mode, at whatever age, amid whatever horrors or triumphs — is always a brimming, companionable narrator of his own story ... With the conjuring tricks of historical fiction, Joseph has taken an actual man and, two and a half centuries later, made him as thoroughly himself, and as fully present, as he was the first time round.
It’s a high-stakes approach, but the voice of the diary sounds just like Sancho in his real letters – pitch-perfect not only for the period, but also for the man ... There’s no shying away from real history: Sancho’s life isn’t all cake in the library of a duke. But in his witty, factual, endlessly benign voice, it’s rarely difficult to read ... Like most stories that follow a real biography, the novel moves in fits and starts. Initially it runs very quickly and surely, when Sancho is a child; there are lulls, and then disjointed bursts of activity again ... This is a tragicomedy of the first order, and not to be missed.
Although Joseph has created an affable raconteur, he occasionally informs rather than involves the reader ... Joseph is at his best when on familiar ground and the story ignites with his description of Sancho’s short-lived attempts to tread the boards as Othello. But while uneven, this fictional account of a real man’s life resonates with compassion and offers a welcome insight into the presence of Black people in Georgian England.