Book Reflection : The Book Of Negroes
It's 1802 and Aminata Diallo, now an old woman, sits down to write her life story at the request of the Abolitionists in London. Abducted from her village in West Africa at the age of eleven and marched in a coffle (a string of slaves) for three months before reaching the coast, Aminata survives the voyage to America and ends up sold to an indigo plantation owner in South Carolina. She describes herself as lucky, because compared to the tragic circumstances and end of so many other black slaves, Aminata manages to survive using her wits, her skills as a midwife, her ability to pick up new skills quickly, and her strength of character.
She witnesses many horrors and sorrows, and experiences them as well, that make her ponder the human nature and the hypocrisy of religions, even her own. Yet through it all surprisingly she does not succumb to anger or hatred; she wants only to be together with her husband, Chekura, their children, who are all taken from her and her homeland.
When Britain surrenders to the rebels they keep their promise to the Black Loyalists - in a way. With a certificate proving they have worked behind British lines for at least a year, they can sign their name in the Book of Negroes and be given passage to a British colony. Most are sent to Nova Scotia, including Aminata. She may have escaped the American slave owners but she hasn't escaped the prejudice, fear and hatred with which the blacks face everywhere they go. The opportunity to return to Africa - the dream she's always had - comes her way, but if she ever wants to see her home village of Bayo again she'll have to make a deal with the devil.
out of all the books I have read about slavery this novel is by far the greatest. This book is going straight onto my "favourites" list. The Book of Negroes is a powerful story on many fronts: it's a very human story, sympathetic, honest, fair to the greys of history, thought-provoking, poignant.
One of the beautiful things about this book is how, as a reader, you feel more in tune with the Africans, while the whites seem strange, alien, bewildering, contradictory. I don't mean that Hill paints an uneven picture - far from it, the rendering of history into something visceral, tangible, grants perspective and context. It's not a simple matter of "white man, bad; black man, victim". That's what I mean by this book being honest: honest about human nature, about the complexities of history, without making excuses for anyone of any colour. I don't mean that there weren't characters who enrage you, but that they are presented relatively free of the taint of presentism.
If you're not familiar with the term, "presentism" refers to our natural tendency to judge history through the lens of the present, by our own modern standards, rather than acknowledging and positioning things within a historical perspective. Hill has done an admirable job of completely immersing us in the 18th century, creating a protagonist who is a product of the time as much as one of circumstance.
Hill has managed to write a convincing, wonderful female protagonist - frankly, not many male writers are this successful. Aminata is unflinchingly honest with herself and others, and by being so thoroughly in her head, she gives us what the Africans needed most during slavery: a voice, the understanding that she's just like us, not some black beast from darkest Africa - heathen, barbarian, uncivilised. As in some other books, the irony comes through clearly: which is the uncivilised race? Who is the barbarian? When Aminata arrives in London, the first thing she sees are the legless beggars on the street, the filth and crowds and pretensions. She doesn't even need to say anything.
Another irony is the rebellion in the American colony - Aminata is in New York when things get nasty, and constantly hears the white Americans talking about being slaves to the British, and fighting for their...
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