Books: Fiction


Book — Fiction. By Walter Mosley. 2006. 272 pages.
A young boy learns to survive under slavery and struggles for his own liberation with help from a mysterious stranger, Tall John.

Time Periods: 19th Century
Themes: Slavery and Resistance

Walter Mosley‘s young-adult book 47 is set on a forced-labor plantation camp, where a boy named “47” is growing up under the watchful eye of a brutal slave master.

To 47, his life seems doomed until he meets the mysterious Tall John who not only introduces him to an unimaginable magical science but teaches 47 the meaning of freedom. The novel mixes historical and speculative fiction into a powerful narrative about the nature of freedom.

[Adapted from publisher’s description.]

ISBN: 9780316016353 | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Author Interview

In 2005, NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates interviewed author Mosley about his book and its meaning.


Karen Grigsby Bates: Learning freedom is a full-time job and a dangerous one for 47. Mosley uses both science fiction and magical realism to guide the reader through his hero’s fight for liberation. But as the book progresses, the bewildered boy who started out afraid of and repulsed by most of his fellow slaves begins to empathize with and champion them. Walter Mosley says this is pivotal to 47’s metamorphosis into the hero he will become.

Walter Mosley: And he has to learn to love himself, and, in learning to love himself, he has to learn to love his fellow slaves for what they are and what they’ve experienced, and he has to learn to understand his own experience, in relation to those slaves, and in relation to white America at that time also…

Listen and read the transcript.

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