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[Reviews] The Book of Negroes
This book is available only through Amazon.com Canada:
It will be released in the U.S. in November.
Title: The Book of Negroes
The actual Book of Negroes is an amazing historical document (a British military ledger) that contains the names and descriptions of 3,000 men, women, and children who served or were supported by the British during the American Revolutionary War. Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes is a brilliantly imagined novel based on the document of the same name and the events surrounding the relocation of thousands of Black Loyalists to various British colonies and eventually to Sierra Leone after the conflict. Similar in approach to The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Hill's offering spans the lifetime of the fictional Aminata (Meena) Diallo, an African born woman who escaped to freedom.
At the beginning of the novel Meena is in London, an old woman who has lived a tumultuous life. At the urging of her abolitionist sponsors, she is asked to pen her story which would be used as evidence depicting the cruelty and inhumanity of the slave trade. Meena, an intelligent, educated woman, authors her autobiography via vivid flashbacks through time. She writes, "Let me begin with a caveat to any and all who find these pages. Do not trust large bodies of water, and do not cross them. If you, dear reader, have an African hue and find yourself led toward water with vanishing shores, seize your freedom by any means necessary." She continues and details her life as a young child in an African village, her capture and Middle Passage crossing, enslavement while in America, relocation to Nova Scotia, return to Africa (Freetown, Sierra Leone), and partnering with abolitionists in England.
However to summarize the book in such a way is a huge understatement - it is steeped in historical facts that educate and enlighten the reader; I was pulled in immediately after reading the opening passages. Before her capture, African spirituality/religion, education (Meena's father taught her to read and write, her mother taught her midwifery), family structure, and culture are illustrated in her interactions with her parents and other villagers. After witnessing her parent's murder at the hands of African slavers, she is coffled and mournfully treks through the African interior for months before arriving exhausted at the coastal slave port. Meena transcribed the inhumanity of the trade, the stifling stench and horrid conditions aboard the slave ship, the rapes and attempted revolts that occurred during the crossing, and the shameful and dehumanizing experience on the auction block. She suffers hardships in America at an indigo producing plantation in South Carolina. She experiences the love and loss of a husband and children. Unwilling to work after the abrupt sale of her son, she is eventually sold to a new owner and escapes to freedom while in New York. Once there, she is employed by the British to record entrants into the infamous "book" and relocates to Nova Scotia. After a decade of struggling against the harsh elements, barren landscape and broken promises regarding land ownership; she and 1,200 other Africans relocate yet again to Africa to establish Freetown in partnership with London-based abolitionists.
The author notes in the Afterword where he has taken a few liberties with the timeline and some historical figures; however the vast majority of the book is factual; extracted from history books and inspired by diaries, memoirs, notes, etc. Hill expertly layers the social and political climates of the time against the protagonist's story. This novel is extremely well-written, perfectly paced, and highly recommended as a study aid for students or to anyone who enjoys the historical fiction genre.
Reviewed by Phyllis