Book Review: Washington Black

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Washington Post
“Extraordinary. . . . Edugyan is a magical writer.”

Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Wall Street Journal
“Exuberant and spellbinding. . . . The novel is not only harrowing and poignant in its portrayal of the horrors of slavery on a Caribbean plantation but liberating, too, in its playful shattering of the usual tropes. The result is a book about freedom that’s both heartbreaking and joyfully invigorating.”

The Dallas Morning News
“Imaginative and dynamic. . . . With equal parts terror, adventure and humanity, Washington Black reads like a dream collaboration between Jules Verne and Colson Whitehead.”


“The thoughts of evil men are not always legible.”

George Washington Black

The Rundown

A masterpiece. It combines the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade, the brutal mistreatment and terrorization of black people with the fickle and still worthy effort of one white man toward a black boy.

This story goes to show that one person’s effort for good was a catalyst for many more goods. In a system set to disadvantage, destroy, mute, and idiotize an entire race, one man set off to break the literal and also artistic and intellectual chains of a young boy, whose very existence, is a reminder that people are not born to fail but are forced into failure.

George Washington Black, Big Kit, Titch, and lovely Tanna, (and Mr. Haas), are without a doubt, catalysts for good.

From the back-breaking, fleshing tearing sugar cane plantation of Barbados to the sun-scorched Moroccan desert, Washingon Black overcomes obstacles to prove to the world, more so than himself, that he is worth remembering, that he is worth knowing; that his intellect and existence will not be forgotten.

A multi-layered emancipatory tale that explores tragedy, love, loss, discovery, the pursuit of meaning, and triumphs through a cloud of mystique. Mr. Black, without knowing it, was himself, a Cloud-cutter.

Tearjerker!

Contents

Part One: Faith Plantation, Barbados 1830

Part Two: Adrift 1832

Part Three: Nova Scotia 1834

Part Four: Englad 1836

Quotable Moments

“We rolled onto Broad Street, and I raised my face to see a series of large hardwood cages, silver and flaking in the sun. Within them, slaves sat or paced or rested their sun-sore faces against the the bars. The ground at their feet was strewn with cast-off clothes and their own horrid waste, and drifting slowly by we could smell the obscene yellow reek of it.
Mister Philip did not ask about them. But I knew these to be runaways. The house slaves had often mentioned this makeshift street prison with a dark pleasure at having witnessed it. No man would raise his face, and I was relieved to catch no one’s eye. I stared at a short, thickly built man, his muscles draped in stained rags. His face was expressionless, as though he had outlived his urges, or lost the memory of desire. He might yet be retrieved by his master, maimed, and allowed to live.
I flattened my palm against the sun-warmed pane, a dark apparition of a boy gliding by in his fine service linens.
‘Such a dreary place,’ said Mister Philip, yawning against his fist. ‘I cannot imagine how you tolerate it.'”


“How do I explain the events that followed? I have weighed that afternoon in my mind these seven years and found myself unable to give a clean accounting of it. I was young and terrified and confused, it is true. But it is also true that the nature of what happened isn’t fixed; it shifts and warps with the years.
I do not know how long Esther and I trod through the brush, only that the late afternoon air was cooling pleasantly, and that we did not speak. She seemed neither preoccupied nor uneasy; her silence was marked by a held-in rage that I have only now, several years later, come to understand as the suppression of will. For she was a ferociously intelligent woman, and it strained her to have to conceal it. She sometimes spoke as no slave should speak; the scar on her face was some testament to this. In Titch’s household she found tolerance and a patient ear, though even he sometimes grew irritated and urged her to remember her place.
She kept her face foward, breathing softly with the exercise, the hem of her dress snagging on passing weeds. Occasionally her damp arm would brush mine, but she did not move away. Above us, the birds wheeled blackly in the starched light. I stopped to clutch a fistful of wildflowers, the petals crumbling with a satisfying reek like burnt parsley. I was trying to still my mind, trying not to dwell on the master’s alarming request to have me returned to him. A fine shiver went through me.”


“I understood. He meant that I had been a slave, and that the savagery of that past left me a ruined being, like some wretched thing pulled smoking from a fire. It did not matter that he accepted me as a thinking man, that he respected my mind, or even that he was in the midst of taking a favour from me. I was black-skinned and burnt, as disfigured inside as without, and though he took me seriously enough as an illustrator and a scientist, he did not want me for his daugther.”


“‘You took me on because I was helpful in your political cause. Because I could aid in your experiments. Beyond that I was of no use to you, and so you abandoned me.’ I struggled to get my breath. ‘I was nothing to you. You never saw me as equal. You were more concerned that slavery should be a moral stain upon white men than by the actual damage it wreaks on black men.'”

RSDB (Read, Share, Dismiss, or Burn) Verdict:

Read it. Reread it. Re-reread it. This is one of those books you can enjoy multiple times in life. The story is so inviting, no matter how brutal and bloody it gets, fear creeping through the pages to wring you through the grinder of persecution and imminent death. The loss of freedom, the fear of the noose, the machete, the nihilistic day-to-day forced labor on a plantation separated from the world.

But…

There’s hope. There’s always an inkling of hope seeping through the story. A much needed reminder for our benign and too oft comfortably forgettable lives.

And share it with a friend.

“Esi Edugyan is the author of the novels The Second Life of Samuel Tyne and Half-Blood Blues, which won the ScotiaBank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Orange Prize. In 2014, she published her first book of non-fiction, Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observation on Home. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia, with her husband and two children.” (From the book).


“An African, or in other terms, a negro may justly challenge and has an undeniable right to his liberty: consequently, the practice of slave-keeping, which so much abounds in this land is illicit… liberty is equally as precious to a black man as it is to a white one, and bondage equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other.”

Lemuel Haynes

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