Last week, I had the privilege to speak with Sudhir Hazareesingh, distinguished scholar, historian, and a professor at the University of Oxford. Black Spartacus, his latest book, a biography of Toussaint Louverture, the precursor of the Haitian independence, was the subject of our conversation. I came to learn about Black Spartacus when a colleague sent me a message and insisted that I watch a video interview that Sudhir gave to Kevi Donat on behalf of La Fondation pour la Mémoire de l’Esclavage.
The interview impressed me enormously. Because it was conducted in French, a language I also know, I rushed to order the French version. But I quickly ran into a roadblock. The French version was not available. I could only preorder a copy. Luckily, an English version was available. So, I decided to forego the French version and order an English copy.
Weaving through the pages, being thrilled is an understatement. I have to say that I have read several historians and their accounts on Toussaint, including The Stone that the Builder Refused, a compelling historical novel written by Madison Smart Bell. But none of them impresses me more than Black Spartacus. Sudhir takes you back to Saint Domingue, literally; and with meticulous details he shows you how Toussaint was by far the most powerful black man of the 18th century—a man whose legacy “thrived in the collective imagination of the 19th century.” (Page 3)
Toussaint’s prowess, his diplomatic skills described in Black Spartacus can only reinforce the instilled pride dwelling in the hearts and minds of all men and women who believe in both social and racial justice. The most remarkable in this biography is Sudhir’s vivid accounts on how Toussaint and his revolutionary comrades defeated the British on the island—something until now I knew little about.
Understandably, being a Haitian, I cannot be happier, especially when I know this masterpiece is penned by an academic whose roots can be traced to Mauritius, a tropical island in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa, where they speak a French based Creole similar with the one spoken in many parts of the Caribbean.
One may say Sudhir’s passion for research is stemmed from a dazzling inheritance. His father, Kissoonsing Hazareesingh, was also a historian. He was both a Cambridge and Sorbonne educated intellectual who became an important functionary in the first Mauritian government—post colonial era.
Black Spartacus was critically acclaimed
The British newspaper, The Guardian, describes Black Spartacus, as “a tour de force: by far the most complete, authoritative and persuasive biography of Toussaint that we are likely to have for a long time.”
The book was shortlisted for the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize as well as for the James Tait Black Prize for biography. Black Spartacus was the winner of the highly prestigious 2021 Wolfson History Prize.
Two weeks ago, I contacted Sudhir and invited him to The Conversation. He agreed, and I was gleeful. So much to say about Toussaint, it was impossible to hold one 30-minute conversation. So, we decided to divide it in two parts. The first part is today, while the second part is set for Friday.
You can watch the video below, as well as on our You Tube channel.
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