Welcome, my lovely people, to what I now realize is my first review of a novel not set today. By that I mean all my reviews thus far have been on modern-set books, and this one is set in the early-to-mid 1800’s.
The setting and the subject matter- slavery- take me farther out of my comfort zone than I’m used to. I found this book, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, while searching my grandparents’ house for new books to read (surprisingly resourceful method).
Without further ado, my thoughts on Washington Black.
Wash: George Washington Black, or Wash, is an eleven-year old slave on Faith Plantation in Barbados when our story begins. He has never known anything but slavery and the companionship of Big Kit, one of his fellow slaves. He has an innate talent for drawing, and he helps Titch with his experiments.
Titch: Christopher Wilde, or Titch, is the plantation owner’s brother. He is a man of science, intent on inventing the Cloud-cutter. He is fascinated with Wash and the plantation, and observes everything carefully.
Big Kit: Wash’s mother figure. She is from Dahomey, a place in Africa. She was taken by the slave trade when she was young, but she remembers Dahomey clearly and maintains all her beliefs.
Erasmus Wilde: Faith Plantation owner, Wash’s master, and Titch’s brother. He is cruel to the slaves and relishes in their pain. He only cares about the money made at the plantation.
Philip: Erasmus’ and Titch’s cousin, who comes to visit Faith Plantation. He isn’t evil like Erasmus, but he is rude to the slaves, and gluttonous.
Tanna: Tanna’s father is white and mother was black. As a mixed woman, Tanna is looked down upon, even in post-slavery Nova Scotia. She is a budding artist who helps her father with his scientific escapades.
G. W. Goff: Tanna’s father. He is a renowned zoologist, famous for a number of oceanography books, some of which Wash loved as a child. He is fiercely protective of those he loves.
John Willard: A bounty hunter known for tracking down runaway slaves.
Wash’s story begins when he is eleven years old. His old master dies, and Erasmus Wilde arrives at Faith Plantation. Erasmus thrives on causing pain to his slaves, and beats and kills them regularly.
Erasmus’ brother, Titch, comes to visit. He plans on inventing a revolutionary contraption that will allow him to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. To do so, he needs help. He convinces Erasmus to loan him Wash, and for months, Wash helps Titch with his experiments and constructing the Cloud-cutter, and all the while, Titch tries to teach Wash how to read.
Then, the Wilde’s cousin, Philip, comes to the plantation, bearing the news that their father has died.
In the midst of grief, Titch lets Wash out of his sights, and Wash is caught in the wrong place. A white man kills himself in front of Wash, and though he could do nothing, he knows Erasmus will blame him and kill him.
So Titch takes Wash and runs away from Faith Plantation, and they run from Erasmus to the ends of the Earth.
First things first, 4 diamonds out of 5.
This book was absolutely captivating. Edugyen paints a world that might have happened, and although we can’t actually see it, she describes everything in such a way that we can see, hear, and smell the world, and we can feel everything the characters feel. We meet fantastical people and go places we never thought to go.
I read all 334 pages in two days, and Intend to find her other books (I’ve already looked one up on Ebay).
I feel for Wash, and I feel for Titch. The only thing holding back that last diamond is how quickly things change. While each scene is detailed and captivating, I found myself lost a few times, and would suddenly find myself in an entirely different place, where the subject of conversation barely existed a page ago.
All in all, though, a novel I would recommend to anyone, regardless of whether you enjoy period novels. Trust me when I say, this one is worth the read.
Visit my last post, where I talk about a 2006 dystopian called Life As We Knew It. Also, check out my bookshelf, where you’ll be able to see all of the books my twenty-something-year-old self decided were worth keeping (spoiler alert: Washington Black will take its rightful place in my fiction section).
Thank you so much for reading, and I’ll see you next week!