Martin Grey has just won a $22.5 million dollar payout for his client, who suffered years of racial abuse and discrimination from his employer. Grey went up against Damon Darrell, a celebrity lawyer. Instead of being angry for ruining his winning streak, Darrell invites Grey to join his group of African American "Titans of Industry." Grey believes this is the first step to real success.
The book skims over the next three months, until Darrell decides to invite Grey on his semi-annual whitewater rafting trip. Grey's wife, Anna, is apprehensive despite all of Darrell and his friends' reassurances that Grey will be perfectly safe. Darrell grows cagey when the Greys ask for more details. Once Grey arrives at the "camping site," he learns why their plane was flying south instead of west and why no one would tell him what to expect while rafting. Instead of going to the Wenatchee River, Darrell has taken Grey to Forty Acres. Forty Acres is named for the infamous Field Order No. 15, which promised freed Blacks forty acres and a mule as reparations. The property, owned by Dr. Thaddeus Kasim, is well off the beaten track for good reason. Kasim has been kidnapping the descendants of slave owners for years and keeping them at Forty Acres, either as house or field slaves or mine workers. It's every bit as brutal and repellent as American slavery was during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
Grey is understandably upset about what Kasim, Darrell, and the rest are up to. The last man to protest, however, was thrown off a cliff. Kasim et al. are very serious about keeping their organization secret. The idea behind resurrected slavery is, as Dr. Kasim explains it, to quiet "Black noise," cultural conventions and ingrained racism that keep African American men in a cycle of crime and poverty. Treating whites as slaves will help Black men get rid of any inferiority complex they have. As Kasim explained this to Grey, I could hear a whole host of counter-arguments in the "Not all men" vein that readers would make. As I said, Forty Acres is meant to be provocative.
Because Forty Acres is a thriller, the plot follows Grey's attempts to blow the whistle on the operation and not be thrown off a cliff in a faked suicide. This is a mis-step, I think. The book is thought provoking as it is, but thrillers aren't usually taken seriously as philosophical and social thought pieces. If this had been written as literary fiction, without the trappings of genre, Forty Acres could have been absolutely mind blowing instead of merely causing indignation.
The other issue I had with this book is that Smith spends so much time focusing on race and Black men, that he doesn't spend much time on African American women. How are they supposed to quiet their own, no less soul-killing "Black noise"? With the exception of Anna and the wives of Darrell's group, the women are all white slaves that are used by men just the way female slaves are. None of the women, even Anna Grey, gets to strike back. This bothered me a lot. Forty Acres has a great premise for a thriller, but as I said before, this could have been a mind blowing work of literary fiction that asked all kinds of unanswerable questions.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 1 July 2014.