In A THIN PORRIDGE by Benjamin Gohs, Mr. Jon Browne–father of the comely, educated Abeona Browne, and a famed abolitionist by the time of his death–is also a man of shameful secrets…secrets which come to light, shocking his sheltered daughter and threatening to entirely swamp all the good he has done making inroads in a successfully burgeoning fight against slavery should such harmful information become widely known. Spanning locales from the state of Michigan in the Americas to steerage on board the S.S. Elsie-Marie to the wild grasslands of Africa where the laws of eat and be eaten rule, Abeona learns much from swarms of voracious mosquitoes, packs of catlike carnivores smelling of spoiled meat plus the world’s worst privy, and the unfathomable machinations of her fellow man. This is the 1800s: a time of racial unrest; a time when white abolition figures like Lincoln seeking higher office are considered by many as upstarts and hicks to be squashed; a time one might be taken under the wing of someone as wealthy as the independent widow Mrs. Astor; a time where one of privilege must learn to cope when discovering there are no privies on the African plains, nor much privacy for a well brought up, dark-skinned girl either.
It is also an era where many who’ve been happy with civilization the way it is–including the business of buying, selling, and using slaves–might go to any lengths to discredit those seeking change. Expansive and ringing true–from dialect to setting details–only the emotional content of certain characters may be a bit thin. Ancient African sayings passed down for generations are known to utilize ‘porridge’ as a symbol for nurturance and the amplified strength that can be found in people coming together to survive and surpass life’s trials. Within this splendidly sprawling novel, unique characters sprung from the author’s inventive and finely researched tale do indeed appear to prove that when two or more gather together towards a common cause, miracles occur. Miracles including the creation of a new kind of kin, even after events to the contrary have made it seem that having true family is no longer an option.
Benjamin Gohs’ enthralling novel A THIN PORRIDGE is a tour de force and gripping historical fiction at its very best. Characters and places, especially throughout the Africa sections, are so richly and vividly described that readers may find themselves half-listening for sounds of twigs cracking and grunts emanating from foliage that happens to be nearby.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader