Pure gold

White Gold

By Giles Milton

For those who enjoy their history lessons filled with swashbuckling adventures, exotic locations and cruel villains, this book is certainly for you.

Milton has clearly spent a great deal of time uncovering rich manuscripts and accounts, and then even more time crafting an extraordinary story from them. It is the tale of one Thomas Pellow, a Cornish cabin boy who set out on his uncle’s trading ship in 1716 but was captured by slave traders from north Africa. Through Pellow’s accounts and Milton’s deep research, we learn the colourful story of a life in captivity for a European in 18th century Morocco. The tyrannical sultan ‘owned’ thousands and thousands of European and African slaves; under his instruction they built one of the world’s largest palace complexes. Many also were forced to apostatise, to bear the sultan’s children and to murder. The sultan himself was a brutal murderer, often killing people at a whim in front of others.

Pellow’s gripping story includes direct quotes that are full of character. Combined with Milton’s literary eye for detail, White Gold makes for a superlative read. I loved every page. It is one of the most exciting and most educational history lessons I have ever received. Crucially, it broadened my understanding of slavery, which I had long considered to be a European crime against African and Arabian victims. White Gold taught me that the true story of slavery is much more complex, and even darker than I thought possible.

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