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Whilst mooching through the books for review, I came across A Place Called Freedom lurking in the crime fiction section. Although criminal acts feature in this book, to my mind it should be re-categorised as historical fiction, or more correctly "faction" (this is a very well researched novel) and is about man's constant fight against slavery. Ken Follett, as many will know, is a staunch supporter of the Labour Party, so it comes as no surprise that he should write a novel based on exploitation of the working man. But this book is more than a manifesto on behalf of the Labour Party and is much more about the industrialisation and social history of Scotland and, in a wider sense, the world. Synopsis: The year is 1767 and Malachi (Mack) McAsh is an indentured miner, working in the coal mines of Scotland, every bit as much a slave as those transported from Africa to work in the cotton fields of America or the cane fields of the West Indies. But Mack, unlike many of his fellow mining slaves, can read and write. He has the intelligence to realise that what is being done to him is unjust and he wants his freedom so makes his escape. On the run, he finds himself in the High Glen where he meets Lizzie Hallim, the daughter of the laird, who helps him escape to London. After a time in London working on the docks and, again, fighting against injustices, Mack is caught and his punishment is transportation to Virginia to work as an indentured servant on a tobacco plantation. In America, and once again on the run, he is reunited with Lizzie. Opinion: This book is definitely not a crime novel. The only crimes in this case are the crimes against humanity, which Ken Follett documents faithfully. His descriptions of Scottish coal mines in the eighteenth century are graphic and the reader feels angry that people could have been subjected to such a plight, with no escape for most of the miners, other than death. I didn't know much about Scottish history, other than the Jacobites, and was shocked to discover that slavery, for that is what it was, existed in Scotland, and probably also in England, too, at that time. I also didn't know much about dockers in London either and, again, Ken Follett put me wise. Before anyone thinks this must be a dreary book about the poor, downtrodden workers, let me put you wise. This is basically a historical romance, but one with a great deal of interesting historical detail which enhances the story rather than overwhelming it. The book is written in the third person which allows the reader to be privy to the thoughts of all the protagonists in the book, though mostly we see this world through the eyes of Mack. Mack is a likeable character and I immediately felt great sympathy for this young man, who yearns for a freedom which is denied him. He can read and write, which is a skill not many miners at that time possessed and his native intelligence makes him believe that his situation is illegal and he resolves to be free but he knows that his freedom can only come about if he escapes from Scotland. When on the run, following his escape from the mine, he meets Lizzie Hallim. Lizzie is the daughter the local laird, a female laird at that; something I didn't know existed. The laird is poor and has little option but to agree to Lizzie being engaged to the son of the mine owner, Sir George Jamisson, and so Lizzie, too, has been offered into a form of slavery in much the same way as Mack. I found it less easy to like Lizzie, largely because I felt her character didn't quite suit the time or place. I realise that this is a novel and that modern tastes require a bit of 'how's your father' to spice up the love story, but I feel this could have been done in a less twentieth century way. Lizzie is far too sexually aware for someone supposedly brought up at a time when virginity before marriage was a highly prized commodity. Once the story moved to Virginia, again, the plight of the working man provided the background to the story. This is a time before the American Revolution and well before the emancipation of slavery, and Ken Follett's description of the sense of utter hopelessness felt by these people filled me with pity for the slaves and horror that anyone could do such a thing to their fellow man. This is nicely juxtaposed by the beginnings of unrest amongst the settlers in America against the yoke of English rule. They, too, were slaves in a way. This book reads more like an historical romance than a straight historical novel and I think I would have enjoyed it more if Ken Follett had soft-pedalled on the romance part, which was pretty much of the Mills & Boon variety. I'm quite partial to romantic fiction but with this book I was more keen to know about Mack's fight for personal freedom rather than his relationship with Lizzie, which was pretty unbelievable anyway. For me, it would have perhaps rung more true if Lizzie had been from, say, the servant classes. On the plus side, his descriptions of the countryside, both in Scotland and Virginia, and the insights into the life of an eighteenth century indentured servant/slave, pulled me right into the story so that I felt I was actually there witnessing all the sweaty indignity of the characters whether they were hauling coal, manacled in a slave ship or in the blazing heat of Virginia cutting tobacco. The ending was typical of a romantic novel really and so lacked a bit punch, but all in all I did enjoy the book. The pace was fast and I wanted to keep on reading to find out just whether Mack would find his place in the world where he could be free. To summarise: This isn't Ken Follett's best novel and if you've never read any of his work before, I would suggest you begin with the excellent Pillars of the Earth, however I finished this book wiser than I began it, having learned a lot about Scotland, labour relations in the eighteenth century and pre-Revolutionary America, all wrapped up in light, easy to read prose, which didn't make me feel I was having a history lesson. It is very sad to reflect on the fact that two hundred and fifty years after the events in this book, there is still slavery in the world. The book is still in print and retails on Amazon for £4.88 although there are many used copies starting at 1p. ISBN: 978-0330344838 576 pages
n a brutal world, charismatic rebel miner Mack McAsh - a slave by birth - is a man with the courage to stand up for what is right, and the strength to stick by his beliefs. Independent, rebellious Lizzie Hallim, meanwhile, is engaged to Jay Jamisson, the ruthless landlord's son and heir to an exploitative business empire. Born into separate worlds, Mack and Lizzie are thrown together when Mack becomes an enemy of the state and is forced to flee his homeland. Lizzie aids his escape, and it is not long before passions rage in the old world as well as the new ...Set in an era of turbulent social changes, A Place Called Freedom is a magnificent novel from the undisputed master of suspense and drama, Ken Follett.