Black Issues Book Review

Captain Blackman. – Review

Captain Blackman. – Review – book review

Anthony C. Davis

Captain Blackman by John A. Williams Coffee House Press, April 2000, $15.95, ISBN I-56689-096-9

First published in 1972, Williams’ masterpiece, which mixes historical research with fictional fantasy, surely stands the test of time.

If you missed the chance to read this book in the past, here is your chance to play catch-up on a thrilling ride.

Williams’ compelling tales are done in flashback. The story centers around the exploits of our hero, Captain Abraham Blackman, who is seriously wounded in Vietnam. While he drifts in and out of consciousness, he dreams that he is a soldier in America’s wars from the American Revolution through Vietnam.

The action grips you in the first lines of page one, where Blackman is pinned down by Viet Cong snipers, and continues through all the battles like a western. The main threads that unite the many voices in these wars is the need for recognition, and the legimitization of the heroic deeds of African American soldiers. Characters walk a delicate line between being oppressed and helping your oppressor do his dirty work to someone else.

Williams combines his vast knowledge of history and military issues with the socio-political struggles of black men in America. Williams’ vivid descriptions put you right in the middle of the action. You can hear the frightening melody of British drums and bagpipes. You can smell the rotting flesh in the WWI trenches. You feel the splattering mud as machine gunfire rips through the the wet marshes of Vietnam. So vivid, in fact, is his imagery that it’s almost hard to believe it’s fiction.

Hats off to Williams for managing to keep his stories from becoming revisionist history. He pulls it off like Ernest Hemingway or James Michener, but with soul, and with a message too.

Like most war books, this is not for the faint of heart. Some of the fighting scenes are downright grizzly: decapitations, castrations, stabbings, shootings, rapes and all the terror that desperate situations bring out of ordinary people. This classic work of African American storytelling deserves a raucous welcome back. As new readers are introduced to his earlier works, we can only expect a greater demand for the contemporary work of one of the master craftsmen of the Black Arts Movement.

Anthony C. Davis is a freelance writer in Philadelphia, who’s recent work has appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer and BET Weekend Magazine.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Cox, Matthews & Associates

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group