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A wonderful education!
on March 10, 2007
In all the fiction I've read pertaining to that bleak period of African slavery in the Americas, none has left me feeling as hope-filled as "The Book of Negroes" has. It is courageous enough a feat that our Black ancestors survived the indignities of slavery to bring us here today, but it is so very uplifting to read of a character who doesn't merely survive it, but makes it her life's work to change the condition for all slaves.
Although a work of fiction, "The Book of Negroes" reminds us of the dangerous labour of those exceptional real-life heroes - Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Frances Harper, and the countless others who worked tirelessly in the abolitionist movement - who believed that fighting for freedom was worth infinitely more than dying in silence.
What makes "The Book of Negroes" so engaging is the insight we have into Aminata Diallo's childhood in Africa before she is even captured. This sets the tone for the way she sees her condition as a slave - as merely something she must overcome so as to return to the land of her birth. And although she bravely endures the harsh rigors of being owned and debased, there is never a moment when the reader feels this woman will not prevail. Even not having been born into a family of storytellers, she recognizes very soon into her captivity that it is her duty to live, and to record the horror facing her people, knowing she will one day have to give an account.
Lawrence Hill has beautifully captured the voice of this precocious child growing into a wise old woman. We are led to smiles in the midst of indescribable despair as Aminata discovers her world through child-like eyes, and to chuckle with her at Buckingham Palace at the irony of King George III marrying an African queen. Hill also balances his story with conflicted characters like Solomon Lindo, who owns Aminata, but teaches her more than anyone else. These characters encourage us to consider the realities of the time, and the limitations of people, both Black and White, trying to survive with some shred of humanity left intact.
The story is gripping, entertaining and educational, and the gift of four and half pages of additional recommended reading which Hill used in research, makes it very well worth it.