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Book Review: "The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho" downplays history

Based on the life of Charles Ignatius Sancho, the first black man to vote in Britain, The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph takes creative liberties to illuminate Sancho's life and achievements. The narrative is told through the lens of Sancho recounting his life to his beloved son and charts from his birth on a slave ship bound for the Caribbean to his voting achievement.


After his birth on a slave ship, Sancho is brought to London, where he is sold to three sisters to be raised into a pet and servant. During his childhood, he encounters a variety of recognizable figures. Still, his introduction to the Duke of Montagu irrevocably changes his life. The Duke takes Sancho under his wing and teaches him to read and write, cultivating his curiosity for the world around him.


As Sancho reaches adulthood, he goes from experiencing poverty and homelessness, falling in love, and buying a business to becoming the first black man to vote in Britain.


There's no denying that Sancho's story is essential to showcase to the world. Still, this novel had too many issues to genuinely enjoy. The many chapters on Sancho's childhood and young adulthood dragged the novel's pacing. Once the novel reached his adult years, the rest of the novel rushed to the end. Additionally, the letters between himself and his future wife were sentimental and illuminated the horrors of slavery in the Caribbean. However, they took up so much of the novel that I lost interest in their romance.


The over-flowery language was charming at first, yet as the novel wore on, it became a tedious chore that should have been edited down to give more heft to the narrative. Trying to decode whatever Joseph wrote overshadowed the events leading up to what should have been a grand climax.


And above all, the lackluster climax of Sancho becoming the first black man to vote in England was the last nail in the coffin. With the novel's second half sprinting to the end without taking a breath, the climax felt like any other event in the book. It lacked the pomp and circumstance that an event like that should qualify for. When I finished the book, I couldn't recall the climax and how Sancho's character development reached that event.


Undoubtedly an important story to share, The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho leaned too heavily on things that ultimately couldn't hold up the novel.


This ARC was provided by Henry Holt & Co and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Follow @bergreadstoomuch on Instagram for more!


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