Who is on the top on the most-piratical-scale: those who fly under the black flag, or the colonial governors who run their own fiefdoms, or the European governments who legalize slave ships? Or, perhaps the men who abandon their families to dire poverty?
In Kingston by Starlight, Christopher John Farley uses humor and history to challenge our acceptance of civilization’s moral centre. As he describes in the afterword, called “Conversation”, he steeped himself in Jamaican lore about female pirates memorialized in songs and tales. Then he soaked up all the stories and records in historical documents. Finally, he let the creative juices flow to entice us into the “truthiness” of the life of Anne Bonny.
Anne Bonny started life in Ireland in a dysfunctional, not entirely legal family at the end of the seventeenth century. Over the course of her early years, she was serially abandoned by members of her family, as well as societies on both sides of the Atlantic. In horror of her “inevitable” fate of falling into prostitution, she created her own destiny on a pirate ship – disguised as a man, of course. Pirate ships were cursed if a woman were aboard, so Bonny had to be vigilant lest her real nature be discovered.
Like other women who escaped the strictures of social norms by joining male enterprises in disguise, Bonny succeeded as a pirate. Exercising extreme discretion about her person helped Bonny take great care in executing her responsibilities on the ship.
While pursuing the golden dream of a valuable ship’s cargo, the crew of colorful characters considered any ship with food and drink well worth capturing, even at risk to their own lives. And when fortune finally shone on them, the thrill of one more adventure lured them to the harsh judgment of the colonial legal system.
Caribbean piracy is the stuff of fables, and Kingston by Starlight adds to this tradition. In our own age Somali piracy is not at all romantic; similarly, in the eighteenth century piracy was greatly feared. Perhaps this novel adds a speck of understanding regarding our own world.