Thursday, February 28, 2013

REVIEW: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Read: Nov. 28th 2012
(or Someone Knows My Name if you are form the states)
There are so many great Canadian authors out there, and Lawrence Hill is one of them.  I always had this on my to-read list and finally picked it up to read because it was on my book club list and I am so glad it was. What a fantastic story. It is hard for a man to write through a women’s eye and Hill did it fantastically.  At points this book was hard to read because of the nature of the story. We as human beings are disgusting. How could we ever treat someone else like the way slaves were treated is truly something I can never understand.
This book is about Aminata Diallo’s amazing story of her life.  In 1802 she is brought before the British abolitionists to relay her story and the realists of slavery.  Like most Africans who were made into slaves, she was kidnapped from her village and forced to walk 3 months to the coast- sometime with chains around their necks.   From here she ended up in South Carolina where she is eventually sold again.  From here she began her journey to ‘freedom’ to Canada and then to London.
For me reading the part of the slave forts along the coast of Western Africa was the hardest. I’ve been to Elmina Castle in Ghana and toured around it. And seeing it first hand and seeing exactly what the ‘living’ quarters were compared to where the white man sat. Horrible. You can’t put in words the feeling you feel when standing at the point of last return (what they called the room that led them to the ship). From this point on they did not know if they would ever survive or ever return to their homeland.
I loved Hills’ description of the ship. How hundreds of slaves were forced below deck. And I loved how Aminata was a very smart and tenacious 11 year old. She somehow managed to charm the owner’s which I think helped make her stronger in order to survive the rest of her ordeal. She was a very smart women, picked up on languages quickly, and used the knowledge her mother passed on to her with being a midwife. All which helped her in her survival.

“We, the survivors of the crossing, clung to the beast that had stolen us away. Not a soul among us had wanted to board that ship, but once out on open waters, we held on for dear life. The ship became an extension of our own rotting bodies. Those who were cut from the heaving animal sank quick to their deaths, and we who remained attached wilted more slow as poison festered in our bellies and bowels. We stayed with the beast until new lands met our feet, and we stumbled down the long plants just before the poison became fatal. Perhaps here in this new land, we would keep living.”

I won’t go into detail about what happens during her life in South Carolina, you just have to pick up the book and read it.  Many hardships were faced, but also happiness as she found Chekura whom she ended up marrying.   The side battles of the States, in both South Carolina and New York were beautifully written. 
The Book of Negroes,- in which the book gets its title from- is a book where when Britain surrendered the slaves who were able to prove they were working alongside the British could sign their names and thus be given a passage to a British colony. In this case the British colony was Nova Scotia.  Prior to reading this I didn't realize Canada's place in the whole slavery scheme so I douind it englighting.  Aminata was actually the person who wrote the names and description of the hopefuls. Once in Nova Scotia, there was a whole other world of fear, prejudice. While they weren’t ‘slaves’ they defiantly weren’t ‘free’.

“I concluded that no place in the world was entirely safe for an African, and that for many of us, survival depended on perpetual migration.”

Since she was kidnapped she always wanted to go back to her village in Africa and eventually her strong will leads her there. Her trip back to her village was interesting. From when they asked her exactly where it was and made her point to it on a map, and she couldn’t.   She didn’t understand the English’s way of thinking of Africa, with all its exotic animals always being placed on the maps. She did make her way at least to the slave port she left from. And in order to continue on, to live in her village she had to make a deal with the devil. She had an awakening. She remembers thinking when she was being forced to walk in a coffle (a chain of slaves) how come nobody came out to help and here she was seeing the same thing.  You ignore it because you don’t want it to happen to you.
All in all, it is a very honest written book. You don’t feel a white vs black person battle. Hill paints a very accurate description of slavery.  And you could tell that he researched the topic very carefully.  While reading it you can picture it wonderfully.  Please go read this, I highly recommend it.

5 stars.


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