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  • Isabella Naiduki

Washington Black Review

Ok so I’ve been on a somewhat of a reading spree these past few weeks, bear with me whilst I feel the need to share all of it with you guys 😂 This was one of the 6 books that was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Honestly speaking, I could not put this one down once I started reading it. Esi Edugyan is a Canadian author with Ghanaian heritage. She’s brilliant. The main character whom which this novel revolves around is an eleven-year-old slave Washington Black, or "Wash" as he is known. Raised on a sugar plantation in 19th-century Barbados, he can barely remember a time when he was not in chains. He has seen sick slaves whipped to shreds and runaways burnt alive. Wash seems destined to meet the same grim fate, until fate intervenes through an unexpected saviour, Christopher "Titch" Wilde, a white undercover abolitionist who is placed in charge of the plantation with his merciless brother. He is separated from the only person that he has known in the slave camp and taken away abruptly without the opportunity of a proper farewell. The way the writer captures the intricacies of their relationship is endearing and heart breaking as you learn new things about them throughout the book. Titch's intentions for the slave seems more like an intervention to stand up to his older brother however it slowly becomes clear (story drags a little in the beginning but it gets better) as a naturalist and inventor, Titch is in need, of an assistant who can help with the construction of a flying machine he grandly calls the "Cloud-cutter". Wash's life of toil & fear as a plantation slave is quickly swapped for one of relative leisure, as he learns to read and write under Titch's guidance. To the surprise and somewhat bemusement of the white slave owners around him, Wash turns out to be a gifted artist, and when his future in Barbados is placed in jeopardy, he and Titch pull off an ingenious escape that has elements of being almost like a fairytale adventure. The storyline quickly takes off and follows the freed slave across the globe, from Virginia to the gloomy alleyways of Victorian London. The author does a great job in keeping the timeline direct, ensuring the plot twists are unexpected & have the shock factor needed to have an impact on the storyline. She also captures the dramatic landscapes through which Wash roams beautifully, but at times some of the sentences she uses for some of his interactions with other characters are cringe-worthy with its overly descriptive words, I had a few eye-roll moments. Whilst majority of narratives that I have read that are about slavery use abolition as the longed-for ending, Esi Edugyan does a brilliant job of examining how for many black men and women, racist attitudes continued to thrive persistently including within the circles of the very people who fought to end the slave trade.

You won’t regret getting this book as one of your must reads for 2018. Esi Edugyan does such a brilliant job transporting you back to the 19th century. Let me know what you’re reading and if you have any recommendations for me also in the comments.

Bella xx


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