Although Natives of My Person has a historical setting and deals with the voyage of the Reconnaissance, a vessel ostensibly engaged in the slave trade, a specific historical phenomenon, it is only partly accurate to describe it as a work of historical realism. Its realist component is not to be found in its fidelity to period costume, living conditions, or similar revealing detail. Instead of the veneer of verisimilitude that such usages provide, the novel locates its realism in the way in which it elaborately recapitulates an outlook.
In order to focus readers’ attention on this enactment of a mindset, there are no reliable geographical or historical bearings. Two powerful nations are mentioned, Lime Stone and Antarctica. Although they are traditionally enemies, their enmity derives from a common commitment to the type of exploration and exploitation that the slave trade brings into being. In Lime Stone, the nation to which the Commandant and the crew of the Reconnaissance supposedly owe allegiance, the ruling institution is known as the House of Trade and Justice. The titular head of this house is Gabriel Tate de Lysle, a name perhaps intended to evoke the firm of Tate and Lyle, a real-life British sugar company with substantial plantations in the Caribbean. Antarctica, on the other hand, is represented by the pilot, Pinteados, and an admiral, signifying its maritime interests. In both cases, the appearance of cohesiveness that these spheres of accomplishment provide is deceptive. The activities emerge as a kind of shadow-play, the manifestations of which are not material but psychological.
Similarly, the voyage of the Reconnaissance lacks geographical specificity and nautical detail. Nor is its purpose the traditional one of adding to the coffers of the House of Trade and Justice. Although mention is made of the Guinea...
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