Trade Editorial Report -- Little, Brown & Company
(Official reader's report by Angus Cameron,
written before he was forced out of
Little, Brown and Company.)
Date: June 27, 1951
Reader: D. A. Cameron
Author: Howard Fast
I haven't the slightest doubt but that if this novel had any other name on it than that of Howard Fast, it would become a best seller. It is endlessly engaging, most ingeniously put together, and, and in all, an entertaining and meaningful novel about Spartacus and the slave revolt he led. As a character, the slave leader never enters the story directly and the skill of the novel lies in the author's ability to make him not only a real man to the reader and to the other characters in the story but the epitome of the underdog with the courage to struggle for the truth in any society at any time.
The novel begins with the young patrician fop, Caius, on his way to Capua with his sister, Helena, and her friend, Claudia. The Appian Way has been reopened to traffic after the final defeat of the Great Servile Revolt and it is lined with over six thousand crosses and the sun-dried and crucified bodies of the remnants of Spartacus's men. Little by little, the reader, through his trio, through the wealthy business man and his wife, Julia, with whom they stop overnight, through his friends, Crassus, who overthrew Spartacus, Gracchus, a Senator and successful politician, and young Cicero, a lawyer--little by little the reader sees Rome at the end of the Republic in its last decay before its internal contradictions had finally ripened it for the overthrow by Julius and Augustus Caesar.
Spartacus had become for each of these people a symbol both as a fearful token of the dangers from inevitable change that beset them and as a figure of what a good man is and that they might have been. Through the reminiscences of several of them, one of whom had seen Spartacus as a gladiator, another who had learned about him through the fight promoter who picked him out of the Nubian mines, another who had fought against him, etc., we trace the story of the slave leader, of the revolt, and of Spartacus's love for his wife, Varinia. The novel comes to an ironic climax when both Gracchus and Crassus seek to buy the German slave, Varinia, who comes to be for each of them a kind of lodestone of a better life and a better time... and a symbol of their guilt for the lives they had led and the kind of world they support.
The novel has suspense, excellent characterizations, a feeling of the times and a profound comment on those times and, indeed, on any time of crisis. Fast, however, does not draw any analogies. As I say, without his name attached to it I am sure it would sell as a fine novel of the end of the Republic.
It is a novel we can publish with pride and with the gamble that it will do better than THE PROUD AND THE FREE. This novel has more motion, more variety, more sex (a plenty of that and both pure and profane), better drawn and more varied characters, and more maturity and meaningful comment.
This is a fine novel.