Children of Kaywana opens in 1616, a year before Raleigh’s El Dorado expedition, and follows the fortunes of the van Groenwegel family, planta­ tion owners on the Essequibo and Corentyne rivers, from the mating of an Indian of mixed blood Kaywana with a young Dutch planter. It proceeds through a history bloodied by skirmishes between Spanish, French, Dutch and British, and savagely repressed slave unrest, to Cuffy’s bloody slave rebellion of 1763-4. Kaywana was a Nietzschean believer in super­ ior force. ‘I know human beings’, she says, ‘they only respect you when you show them you are strong’.7 The van Groenwegel family establishes itself on a belief in ‘Groenwegel blood. Fire-blood. The van Groenwegels

never run’. Respect and even loyalty depend on cruelty. ‘Stop punishing [slaves] and they fancy you have ceased to love them. That is the mental­ ity of the slave’.8 Kaywana’s granddaughter, Hendrickje van Groenwegel, rules her slaves with sadistic cruelty, aided by her favourite slave and paramour, the Obeah man Bengara. She thinks nothing of burying an ageing slave alive in quicklime, and is tyrannical over her own children. Even those repelled by her cruelty are attracted to her power, and at the age of ninety she still dominates the van Groenwegels. Yet the family will to power turns to nihilistic despair. Her gentle grandson Jacques, tortured by the rebel slaves, thinks ‘Grandmother is right. Life is a brutal, haphazard game’.9 But he dies recklessly fighting the rebels not out of heroism: human bestiality has destroyed his wish to live.