Such a curious mixture of cruelty and compassion and of honor and dishonor. The setting and people are exotic, almost stereotypically so, and in fact, if I didn't know that this was a true story, I'd think this was a very standard 19th century Anglo-American piece of action/adventure fiction. The fact that this story seems
fictional but is not, really made me wonder about a lot of things as I read this book. What motivates people to practice slavery, and does that motivation vary across cultures? Is the desire to enslave others endemic to our species, and if not, how and why do we justify it? Did Riley and his men suffer any more or any less than the slaves existing at the same moment in their own country of the United States, and were their views on American slavery changed after their own experiences? What was Riley's homecoming like? What was the rest of his life like?
The book was long in parts, although I'm not going to say, "longer than it needed to be," because having never been enslaved, I don't know how long a book needs to be in order for the former slave to express their own experience to their own satisfaction. I was impressed with Riley's ability to not only convey his experience as a slave, but also with his ability to learn and observe and become fascinated by the culture around him as he was enduring this suffering. I suppose his survival depended on that, but it was fascinating to know that he was, for example, learning to communicate in Arabic while his body was so beleagured that his bones were literally exposed through his flesh. I'm not sure I'd have had the same will or capacity to survive.