The Theory of War is story of a white child sold into slavery in post-Civil War America. At just four-years-old Jonathan is sold to Alvah Stokes, who treats him terribly. Alvah’s son George taunts Jonathan, and it is hatred for him that lasts throughout his lifetime, and leads to Jonathan tracking him down to seek revenge.
The Theory of War is based on the true story of the author’s grandfather. I actually found the author’s note at the end of the book one of the most interesting sections. In it she explains how four of her grandfather’s seven children (including her father) committed suicide. She blames their deaths on the emotional scarring of slavery, and wrote the book in an attempt to understand what he went through. It is this emotional attachment to the text that makes this such a good book.
The book switches between Jonathan’s difficult live as a slave, and the story of his grandaughter learning about what he went through for the first time. At just over 200 pages this isn’t very long, but there are a lot of strong messages contained in it; not only about the importance of compassion for everyone, but also discussions on disability and war.
I loved the ending – I didn’t see it coming at all, and thought it gave a fitting finish to this book.
I have to admit that the book lost some of it’s momentum in the middle section. Jonathan’s life as an adult didn’t have as much appeal to me, and I thought the book could have benefited from concentrating on his experiences as a slave. This is only a minor complaint though, and think this is a deserving winner of the Whitbread prize.
NB. There is a lot of strong language in this book, which may offend some people.
I haven’t actively followed the Costa/Whitbread prize, although I have read and enjoyed a few, most notably The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman.
Do you enjoy reading Costa/Whitbread books?
If so, which has been your favourite?