Curated by Letice Braun
“One of the things that fiction can do is put you into the feelings, the psyche, the body of somebody who is wholly unlike yourself” - Esi Edugyan
In ‘Washington Black’, a slave named George Washington Black narrates his own story. The novel starts in 1830 on a Barbados sugar plantation called Faith. The story begins when a new master takes charge and the fear is palpable. The accounts of murders, punishments and random cruelties are horrifying and ruthless. The reader can almost see what is coming, but that’s where Esi Edugyan transforms the novel into an extraordinary adventure.
She makes sure the fate of Washington Black is not dictated by history, but instead gives him permission to soar above his circumstances and live a life that has been shaped by his imagination, intelligence and sensibility.
Washington Black, an inborn artist and scientist, escapes the sugar plantation by hot-air balloon, in search of some distant, sorrowful notion of home. He has an affable persona, his prose is vivid, sometimes passionate, but balanced. He knows that as an escaped slave, there is a price on his head. Despite the wonders he experiences, he never loses a fearful apprehension that is rooted and fully real. No matter where he goes, he is both ready for the world and displaced.
Esi Edugyan uses a fictional approach and subtly braids in historical elements and the systematic disadvantages black lives are still dealing with today. This combination makes this novel powerful, creating room for the reader to truly empathize with the character. ‘Washington Black’ challenges us to imagine the lives of the forgotten, powerless, disenfranchised and socially disadvantaged. An inspiring read that paves the way to a healthy state of understanding and self-assessment.
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