#MTW2017 The Praying Nun – A Slave Shipwreck Saga by Michael Smorenburg

Written by TBBManiacRobyn

Michael Smorenburg has produced a short, but none the less captivating story, combining fiction with true events, which though slightly embellished have left me feeling shocked and heart sore to the core. Don’t let this dissuade you though, sometimes through pain comes a renewed sense of needing to understand. Which is exactly what has happened to me.

The Book

The Praying Nun is divided into two distinct parts. Part 1 tells of two scuba divers, each with their own personal ambition for finding success and wealth while secluded under the salty waves of the Atlantic Ocean in search of a sunken ship laden with treasure. Part 2 tells us of the ship which the two divers find, the São José-Paquete de Africa, sunk in 1974 claiming the lives of approximately half of the 400 ‘native’ slaves that were on board.

While I’d love to continue on using my standard reviewing format, I feel as though this will be doing a great disservice to a book which I had not expected to be as harrowing as it was.

Michael focuses on a part of history that, I believe, is at risk of being entirely forgotten and I have found myself eager to pursue more in-depth reading surrounding the slave trade and its presence in Africa. Though embellished in retelling, there is something in his words which has left me desperate to know as much as I can;

“…there’s as much treasure in the human spirit and our history books as in any deadweight of gold”

I cannot tell you how deeply I respect a book that plants the seed of curiosity, and that shares a belief I have so long held onto. History is critical to us all, because it allows us the chance to grieve, to understand, to heal and most important of all, to move forward with knowledge that can help us not to repeat the past.

Part 2 of The Praying Nun was bitterly difficult to read, purely because as I read I felt my fear rise up, the dread for what lay ahead and the absolute desperation that must’ve been felt by those who were shackled and left below decks. I was as immersed in the experience as if I myself had been there myself. We board the São José.

On board, we follow the character of Chikunda, (named Christian by the Captain). In introducing this character we are afforded the opportunity to explore human nature at its most despicable, as well as at its most human. Alfonso Oliveria, the ships Bosun views all slaves as merely a commodity. He has no regard for human life and finds a sick pleasure in branding, urinating on and lashing the captives. In comparison the Captain, who on discovering that Chikunda and his wife Mkiwa, (named Faith by a Mission to which they belonged) are Christian has them removed from the confines below deck, stating “It is against the law to hold a Christian as a slave”, later “I will not violate either the laws of the predominant power on the high seas nor decency”. In this they find they have been saved from inhumane conditions, though not from the fate that awaits them on berthing.

My one criticism would be that I’d have liked to see more included post-wreck, and possibly more of the more recent developments from 2010 onwards, I think this would have provided a nice closing point for Part 1 which ended a little abruptly for me.


I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical and era set books. For those who battle with following human rights abuse it may be difficult to read though I assure you that there is a beautiful ending which makes the indignity suffered by the unnamed victims a little easier to swallow.
If you’ve read Michael’s other books, you will find this to be a very different side of his writing. I love that Michael takes the additional steps in including resource material and FYI points at the end of his books, it shows his passion for spreading knowledge and allowing people the chance to take his books that step further after reading them.

It was a pleasure to read and I thank him for planting the seed as he has.

Review Rating: 3.7 / 5

More Information:

Published By: Qunard

Published date: September 15th 2016

Genre: Historical Fiction,Adventure Mystery Non-Fiction

Author and purchase information available on Website Review.


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