Image Credit : Waterstones
Wow. This book just had me spellbound. Commonwealth Literature at its finest. Or just a marvelous artist in Lawrence Hill creating a wondrous fictional historic landscape that reverberates with the story of one woman's struggle, passion and ultimate redemption and survival. Freedom. In a word, that is what the Book of Negroes boils down to. Tempestuous and stormy, Hill takes us on a journey from Bayo in Africa, across the stench-ridden slave ships that transport young Aminata Diallo to North America where she is sold as a slave, "a wench," to nasty Appleby, and her subsequent fall into Solomon Lindo's hands and there on to New York, and then Nova Scotia all the way back to Africa. Was she a traveler!
I was just wrapped in this book. I have a special love for Commonwealth Lit as it is and this book deserves the accolades it has won, including the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Some may point out the book's obvious similarities to Alex Hailey's Roots, but while Roots traced generations, the Book of Negroes focuses on just Aminata and her search for freedom. Sometimes, when I read books based on history as this one is, I wonder how mankind could have been so unjust, cruel and at the heart of it, act as devilish marauders flaunting strength over weakness as a sign of superiority that lands one the right to ceaselessly abuse another. Imagine being torn from your parents at the age of 11 or 8, made to walk chained to each other's necks, thrust into a cabin that has space for 100 but crams in 1000. Imagine being branded on your chest, marking you forever. Imagine the singeing pain. But imagine more the madness that can seize you when all that you know and cherished is lost forever as you sail across the 'big river' and enter captivity to serve someone's trade.
Is Aminata ever free? No. Till the end, I feel Aminata is not really free the way we know it. True, she is no longer tied to some white owner, but her fortunes and her life still depends on them. (And this is no spoiler, don't worry). Yet, she has the freedom to voice her thoughts, and that she does wonderfully eloquently and beautifully. Read this one. Please. It makes its way to my Top 100 Books To Live For list.
Note: The Book of Negroes was an actual historical document. In the U.S., however the book is marketed under the title of Someone Knows My Name.
Verdict : Superbly Outstanding!