Canada Reads 2009: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
Filed under: Canada Reads — Ibis at 10:40 am on Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Canada Reads blurb for the book:
“Over the course of this epic novel, Aminata is transformed into a storyteller extraordinaire. She spins the astonishing tale of her remarkable travels from Africa to America and back again. Along the way, a sojourn in Nova Scotia illuminates a long-neglected chapter in Canadian history.

Aminata’s autobiography — or, in her words, “ghost story” — begins with her idyllic childhood in West Africa. Happy times are cut short when she is abducted at age 11, placed in chains, taken across the sea and forced into slavery at an indigo plantation in South Carolina.

But Aminata is a survivor and this is just one chapter in her remarkable life story. In a fitting twist for a book featured on Canada Reads, Aminata discovers that literacy just might be her ticket to a new life.

Following its release in 2007, Lawrence Hill’s compelling blend of history and fiction won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in 2008.”

Other useful links:
the Canada Reads page for The Book of Negroes

My thoughts:
Before – I do believe this is the longest of the Canada Reads selections. I’m hoping it will go relatively quickly though since I really want to be able to finish all the books in time.
During (13.01.09) – Well, it is going fast. I stayed up until perhaps 3 or 4 in morning the day before yesterday and until 2 last night reading Aminata’s story. I think this is largely due to the trick of the author in laying out the plot as a journey home: the people A. meets, the ones she has relationships with, her experiences are all of secondary importance to the drive to return from whence she came. We become obsessed with knowing if and how she’s going to make it home to Bayo and what she’ll encounter when she gets there. Supporting this primary reunion plot are the three minor ones (the separation and possible reunion with Chekura, Mamdu, and May).
Other things that have crossed my mind so far: I like Aminata, but she seems kind of emotionally flat. Is this on purpose (a product of either her early upbringing or her continual traumas? a result of narrative distance)? Or perhaps this is Hill’s inability to quite sync with a woman’s perspective? I’m just not sure. The language of both the narration and dialogue often seem too contemporary to be a true representation and this sometimes pulls me away from the story with question marks hanging over my head (“a work in progress”??? what 18th Century person would come up with that???). Compare Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson.
After – Well, it was enthralling to the end & I did enjoy the journey. It did seem more like an author’s concoction rather than a real life history though. I’m happy that Aminata got to meet with her daughter May, but I was a little disappointed that she didn’t make it back to Bayo.

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