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Sacred Hunger is a stunning and engrossing exploration of power, domination, and greed. Filled with the “sacred hunger” to expand its empire and its profits, England entered full into the slave trade and spread the trade throughout its colonies. Barry Unsworth follows the failing fortunes of William Kemp, a merchant pinning his last chance to a slave ship; his son who needs a fortune because he is in love with an upper-class woman; and his nephew who sails on the ship as its doctor because he has lost all he has loved. The voyage meets its demise when disease spreads among the slaves and the captain’s drastic response provokes a mutiny. Joining together, the sailors and the slaves set up a secret, utopian society in the wilderness of Florida, only to await the vengeance of the single-minded, young Kemp.
Nicholas Barber is a twenty-three-year-old priest who, fearing the wrath of the bishop for breaking his vows of chastity, takes up with a troupe of traveling players. Coming to a small town in the middle of winter, the troupe puts on their usual morality play but gets caught up in a drama of a different kind: a murder has taken place, and a mute-and-deaf girl stands condemned, awaiting execution. Seeing an opportunity to attract a larger audience than ever, the players go through the town collecting information about the murder, which they weave into their next performance. As they perform, the story takes on a life of its own. Soon they learn that their drama is far closer to the dangerous truth than they originally imagined - and they are summoned to perform for the local potentate, the powerful Lord de Guise, who has his own reasons to be interested in their version of events. Bringing fourteenth-century England to vibrant life, Barry Unsworth deftly shows us a time that is far off yet strangely familiar, where underneath medieval trappings lie the same corruption and moral dilemmas we face today.
The year is 1908, the place, a small Greek island in the declining days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. For twenty years Basil Pascali has spied on the people of his small community and secretly reported on their activities to the authorities in Constantinople. Although his reports are never acknowledged, never acted upon, he has received regular payment for his work. Now he fears that the villagers have found him out and he becomes engulfed in paranoia. In the midst of his panic, a charming Englishman arrives on the island claiming to be an archaeologist, and charms his way into the heart of the woman for whom Pascali pines. A complex game is played out between the two where cunning and betrayal may come to haunt them both.