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Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger and Thanksgiving

November 22, 2012

I finished Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger, eating garlic fries and drinking beer at the DCA airport bar and grill. The place was neck deep in travelers, telling each other stories of delays and turkeys and winter. Two women next to me were having a cathartic discussion about being “more bitchy” and how they have learned to stand up for themselves on account of living in the mean streets of New York City. Whatever.

I put a finger into my ear and returned to the dwindling pages of Barry Unsworth’s magnificent novel. It took me a while to orient myself to the 21st century after finishing this book. It stayed with me and Matthew Paris, Eramus Kemp, Tabakali all remained with me, even Kenka and his lost paradise. It’s the story of the easy brutality of the slave trade, colonialism and capitalism by tracking the journey of a slave ship to Africa and back. And it seemed somewhat fitting that I would finish it up on the brim of thanksgiving break.

This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.” — Governor John Winthrop, 1637, after the massacre of around 700 women, children, and men.


We are told that the horror of colonial violence is behind us. We are aided by structural and cultural forces that ensures a four-day holiday that allows for travel, elaborate food preparations and gathering of family to give space for “giving thanks” and gratitude.

Every year we celebrate genocide and war.

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