Liberty Bazaar by David Chadwick
High society is a form of captivity in this rollicking tour through Victorian Liverpool, which also happens to be a searing indictment of Britain’s role in the American Civil War. Luckily, David Chadwick’s historical thriller is compassionate and exceedingly smart, examining Anglo-American relations with the precision of a surgeon.
Two protagonists battle it out to allow their story to have the final say. Young Trinity Giddings is a slave girl in the American south, planning to run for freedom on the night of her mother’s funeral. Her escape is told brilliantly, hijacked by brief, impressionist images of division. Her journey across the Atlantic lands her in the care of ‘richcrats,’ Liverpool’s liberal elite, who seek to conscript her as a propaganda piece. Meanwhile, General Jubal de Brooke is plucked from the smoking hell of war and sent to England as an ambassador for the Confederacy. Both of these characters are forced to deal with themselves and each other, navigating the entrapments and collusions of civilised aggression.
Chadwick’s prose paints his shuffling urban milieu with a nose for detail, inhaling the rich tang of docklands crowds, the sweeping egalitarianism of street life forming a tragic backbone for the limitations of the rich. What really stands out, however, is the twin narrative, muddying the heroic waters yet acknowledging their existence in a time of violent opposition. It amounts to a revealing look at vested interests, and the fact that Britain has more blood on its hands than it would care to admit.