Thursday, 12 March 2009
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
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.