Review: WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan (Harper Collins/Knopf/Serpent’s Tail)

EdugyanE-WashingtonBlackCAA gripping, beautifully written story about freedom, science, and finding one’s place in a hostile world

When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – is horrified to find himself chosen to live in the quarters of one of these men. But the man is not as Washington expects him to be. His new master is the eccentric Christopher Wilde – naturalist, explorer, inventor and abolitionist – whose obsession to perfect a winged flying machine disturbs all who know him. Washington is initiated into a world of wonder: a world where the night sea is set alight with fields of jellyfish, where a simple cloth canopy can propel a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning – and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.

But when a man is killed one fateful night, Washington is left to the mercy of his new masters. Christopher Wilde must choose between family ties and young Washington’s life. What follows is a flight along the eastern coast of America, as the men attempt to elude the bounty that has been placed on Washington’s head. Their journey opens them up to the extraordinary: to a dark encounter with a necropsicist, a scholar of the flesh; to a voyage aboard a vessel captained by a hunter of a different kind; to a glimpse through an unexpected portal into the Underground Railroad. This is a novel of fraught bonds and betrayal. What brings Wilde and Washington together ultimately tears them apart, leaving Washington to seek his true self in a world that denies his very existence.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy plains of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness of life. This inventive, electrifying novel asks, What is Freedom? And can a life salvaged from the ashes ever be made whole?

I first learned of Esi Edugyan’s latest novel when the Man Booker Long-list was announced. I was surprised that a novel that wasn’t even out yet would be on the long-list, but it led me to try to hunt down a copy. Harper Collins Canada was very kind in supplying me with an ARC, and I started reading it the weekend before it was published. I really enjoyed reading this novel. Continue reading

New Books (August)

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Featuring: Mary Adkins, Jussi Adler-Olsen, David Annandale, Jessica Barry, Flynn Berry, Miles Cameron, M.R. Carey, Victor Montgomery Cornwall, Craig Davidson, Sebastien de Castell, N.S. Dolkart, Esi Edugyan, Ben Fountain, William W. Freehling, John French, Christopher Golden, David Gordon, Charlaine Harris, D.B. Jackson, Gregory B. Jaczko, Steven James, Eyal Kless, Sam Lipsyte, Jonathan Maberry, Mindy Mejia, Sara Paretsky, Matthew Quirk, Kim Stanley Robinson, Axl Rosenberg, Tom Rosenstiel, Michael Rutger, David Small, Anna Smith Spark, Arthur St. John Trevelyan, Martha Wells, Cherise Wolas, Chris Wraight, Jane Yolen

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Upcoming: WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan (Harper Collins / Knopf / Serpent’s Tail)

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I first learned of Esi Edugyan‘s Washington Black after I saw it announced that it was on the Man Booker Prize longlist — despite not yet being available. (I still find it a little strange when as-yet-unreleased novels are included on prize lists.) Nevertheless, I think it sounds really interesting:

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.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life. Inspired by a true story, Washington Black is the extraordinary tale of a world destroyed and made whole again.

I can’t wait to read this novel. Washington Black to due to be published in Canada by Harper Collins (September 4th); in the US by Knopf (September 18th); and in the UK Serpent’s Tail (August 2nd).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads