Book Review: The Book of Negroes


I have been fortunate as of late to read some incredibly powerful books; books that have affected the nature of who I am as a person, how I view the world and the method in which I should carry myself based on my own personal triumphs and tribulations. There are a few books that I have mentioned in previous reviews as those that have changed my life and become instant recommends for anyone that passes through my life and wants to converse about literature.

Recently I finished reading a novel by Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes. As I turned the last page and closed the paper leaf I sat back, released a deep breath and utter a simple yet profound, ‘wow’. Published in 2007 and already an acclaimed winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Overall Book, this nearly 500 page epic is one that feels but only a few moment have passed from start to finish. There is something about the power held by main character Aminata Diallo that reflects on women as a species and their determined spirit to preserve regardless of the hardships the universe decides to heave their way. Hill’s brilliant portrayal of Aminata’s spirit and drive to satisfy both herself in life while endlessly aiming to withhold a sense of family and values is like nothing I have ever read.

As mentioned before, I must learn to summarize books in a fashion of not to give away the most critical details. Until then, an excerpt from the novel; an intro:

‘When Aminata Diallo sits down to pen the story of her life in London, England, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, she has a world of experience behind her. Abducted from her village in West Africa as an eleven-year-old child and forced to walk in a coffle-a string of slaves –for months to the sea, Aminata is put to work on an indigo plantation on the sea islands of South Carolina. She survives by using midwifery skills learned at her mother’s side and by drawing on a strength of character inherited from both parents. But Aminata remains trapped, narrowly avoiding the violence that cuts short so many lives around her. Eventually, she has her chance to register her name in the “Book of Negroes,” a historic British military ledger allowing 3,000 Black Loyalists passage on ships sailing from Manhattan to Nova Scotia.

This remarkable novel transports the reader from an African village to a plantation in the southern United States, from a soured refuge in Nova Scotia to the coast of Sierra Leone, in a back to Africa odyssey of 1,200 former slaves. The Book of Negroes introduces one of the strongest female characters in recent fiction, a woman who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her sex.

Lawrence Hill has transformed a neglected corner of history into a brilliantly imagined and engaging piece of historical fiction.’

There really aren’t enough words to describe this masterpiece and I truly encourage anyone who yearns for an unforgettable read to purchase this novel or loan it from your local library. Yet another personal recommendation from the international library of Dan.

Happy reading!