Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Doubleday €17.54

WHEN the British were run out of America, they promised not to bring any Negroes “or other property” with them.
Weasel words; the British were caught between two promises.
They’d also pledged to free those who sided with them.
So they registered 3,000 ex-slaves’ names in The Book of Negroes - which is still kept in Britain’s National Archives - and brought them to Nova Scotia as ‘indentured servants’.
In Lawrence Hill’s best-seller, which won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Aminata Diallo, stolen as a child from her African village, is the one registering the names.
It’s a page-turner. Amanita, a midwife aged 10, is stolen, survives a horror journey when one in three dies, observes a shipboard uprising.
Anus plugged to stop her diarrhoea, she’s sold on the block to a brutal planter.
She learns to read, is sold again, this time to a kindly(ish) Jewish civil servant, escapes to a shanty town.
She bears children to a peripatetic husband, loses them, teaches classes, is hired to register the ex-slaves.
She goes to Nova Scotia, then to Sierra Leone - and becomes the spokeswoman of the English movement for the abolition of slavery.
It’s a lot of action, and the story smells of research; but it's a great book on the history of slavery.
Author's site

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