Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Penalty by Mal Peet

This companion novel to Keeper (2005) picks up the story of South American sports journalist Paul Faustino, who is drawn into a wild, esoteric mystery after a young soccer prodigy disappears. Peet's experimental narrative leaps between Faustino's contemporary viewpoint and the historical voice of an African man who survived the Middle Passage and the graphic brutality of slave life. Engberg, Gillian (from

Peet writes well and Penalty stands on its own (I haven't read Keeper, but didn't feel like I was missing out although my understanding might be deeper for having done so). I wanted Penalty to be more rooted in historical fact like Tamar. Penalty was gripping and jumping from slavery to present day gave deeper meaning to the legacies of voodoo/Veneration and slavery/social power. Peet explicitly writes in the author's note at the end of the book that the story is set in his own imagined country, often assumed to be Brazil. His details of slavery don't match some of what I've learned about that part of the slave route - he writes about a slave "hospital" where people recovered from the arduous ocean journey in the slave ships and were fattened up for sale. My understanding is that people were treated as even more expendable commodities in Brazil/South America than in North America because it was the closer port, cheaper shipping costs, and harsher climate for longevity. Slaves were only expected to live 1-2 years (from what I remember Ray Kamalay lecturing on).

Between Tamar and Penalty, Tamar is far superior. I was more invested in the characters and felt greater historical authenticity (as Peet intended, so that's my preference not his failing). The cultural details were interesting, but I couldn't tell if Peet was conveying real vs. imagined details. Penalty doesn't have topics I would naturally seek out, so I wanted to gain something for the effort of reading about voodoo and slavery. For a created religion, I wanted more information from Peet about the spirits and the pull they had over people and the sacrifices/practices. A very good book, with YA and adult appeal, especially for those with an interest in the occult. Not a TU top 20. NAY


At January 31, 2008 at 6:49 AM , Blogger Katie said...

I think this will also appeal to older teens who are into Patterson and Grisham.
Nay for TU

At February 7, 2008 at 10:28 AM , Blogger Iris said...

Reading this, in comparison to Tamar, I think Tamar has greater teen appeal. I would give this to readers who I know can get through the first few chapters to where the story really starts. NAY.


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