Washington Black: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018
By Esi Edugyan
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When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men.
The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him.
Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger.
They escape the island together, but then then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.Tweet
What an absolutely fantastic romp of a novel, largely down to the delightful narrator whose name is the title. Set in the 1800's, starting on a plantation among the slaves and ending well after the abolition of slavery, the novel, as well as being a rip-roaring adventure story, is about race, freedom and the nature of relationships. Our hero is 11 years old when we meet him and a fully grown, if still young, man by the end with his many adventures having shaped him into what he is. And he's lovely! It's a great read. A fast-moving lose-yourself plot, unforgettable characters and brilliant writing throughout. Highy recommended.
There is not a dull moment in this book!
The writer reminds us of the brutal violence endured by slaves in American history. She also questions if deeply entrenched racism in a society can truly be eradicated? Certainly not so in the years following the abolishment of slavery as experienced by Wash. The continuous harsh and unjust treatments Wash face even after he was “freed” make him question the true motivation of the liberators, including his own saviour, Titch.
The story is gripping and I especially enjoy being taken to various parts of the world through Wash’s adventures. The multi dimensional characters are compelling and the complex relationships that are skilfully weaved into the story draw me in.
Wash’s talent and his achievements in Science provide uplifting excitement that counter many dark moments in the book. The suicide of Philip, being a turning point of the story, plays in my mind throughout the book. Even after reaching the end of the book, I find myself still searching for a believable reason that has led to that moment for Philip to take his own life so violently and abruptly. But then, I realise that is life. Often suicide is incomprehensible to an outsider. One only begins to ponder after the tragedy on the turmoil and suffering a depressed suicide victim must have endured.
After going through such a journey with Wash, I can’t help but wish for a more conclusive ending. Has Wash finally found inner peace after confronting Titch?
The book begins with ‘Wash’ as a child born into slavery on a sugar plantation where he experiences a life of relentless trudgery and violence. However, through a daring escape the book evolves, exploring themes on science, travel and adventure, developing into a thoroughly engrossing narrative. But throughout it all, Wash never escapes the brutalised life of a slave forever living in fear of being recaptured. It’s a great story which I would highly recommend.
Our reading group, the vic park walkers, was delighted by this novel. Edugyan writes an adventure that is both modern and original and yet evocative of the narrative quest and hero’s journey. This journey is both physical - where physical nature and the environment are huge and uncompromising - and also emotional and spiritual, with the core challenge one of personal freedom. The scarring that characters suffer is both external but almost more significantly soulful. So as a reader you absorb it on at least these two levels, alongside the social and political times during which it is set - and in the end although the physical journey was adventure at its freshest and must surprising, it was for me the emotional journey that was most profound, with Wash accepting that his life was as he made it, not given back to him or saved by another. It is a beautifully written book, exciting but moving in equal measures. All the characters are real and alive, and I felt sad to let them go. A book that opens the mind and spirit to allow for hope, grief and the growth that comes from them.