Walter Mosley wrote a children's book, what is now called a YA (young adult?) novel. I've read much of Mosley's work and been impressed by it all, his Easy Rawlins novels are some of the finest examples of crime fiction on the market and books like The man in THe Basement" make him stand out even more as a writer. Mosley gives me, a middle-aged white man, a brief glimpse of what it would be like to have been black in the 50's and 60's in the Southern USA, a look at the fear and the racism and the bigoted attitudes on both sides of the fence and it ain't pretty. But at the very foundations of Mosley's writing is a tiny nugget of hope for humanity. Most critics reviewing Mosley's work pick up on his understanding of the sheer bleakness of black life and ignore the fact that the man's writing show him to be an optimist, battered and bruised but still an optimist.

47 is perhaps his bleakest and most optimistic work. It's a tale of slavery in 1830's USA and it doesn't pull punches for being a YA novel. The tales of beatings, brandings, cotton picking and the general life of slaves has an honesty to it that makes you feel embarrassed to be white. It makes it very clear that the only difference between slaves and dogs is dogs were better treated and better fed. As the book goes on it moves from being a terse historical drama and moves into the realms of Science Fiction and Fantasy. It makes the move gracefully though, the language changes little and the concepts tall John, a visiting alien who looks black, brings with him of interstellar travel and the end of the Universe sit with unexpected comfort in the cotton fields and slaves graveyard. In the hands of a lesser writer this would have been an historical tome the size of a house brick and a fantasy trilogy three times as large again. In Walter Mosley's hands the book becomes about bigger themes. It's about how people treat each other, how mistreatment can beget mistreatment but can also bring out strength in another. Mostly though it's about freedom and what it means to be free, the responsibility that comes with it. Time and again 47, the books "hero"gives up some chance or semblance of freedom from external forces because of an understanding of what freedom means spiritually. He finds it's no use being free if those he knows and loves are still slaves.

This is a heartfelt book with, apparently, links to a "slave" legend of a saviour called Long John who would resuce the slaves and return them to the bosom of mother Africa. Mosley has taken what was originally a fireside tale meant to momentarily cheer a lost people far from home and given it a resonance that speaks to more than blacks in this day and age. For all it's bleakness it's a book of hope and I look forward to the day when my daughter is old enough to read it herself.