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

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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

Quick Review: FIFTEEN DOGS by André Alexis (Coach House)

A marvellous, thought-provoking, and moving novel

— I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.

— I’ll wager a year’s servitude, answered Apollo, that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.

And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet­erinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.

When I first started reading Fifteen Dogs, I was worried I wasn’t going to like it. It took me longer than it should have to realize what Alexis was doing — namely, the fact that the canines in the title, while gifted with human intelligence, were not also gifted with human knowledge. It may seem like a common sense thing, but it’s not something I’ve seen in other novels in which animals are or become anthropomorphized. As a result, the first fifty pages or so were pretty blunt, and the writing didn’t exhibit the lyricism or depth that I’d been led to expect. But after that point… it really started to shine. Continue reading

New Books (January)

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Featuring: André Alexis, Jennifer Armstrong, Rob Boffard, Ezekiel Boone, Algis Budrys, Matthew de Abaitua, Patrick Flanery, Ian Graham, Elizabeth Greenwood, Sarah Hilary, Joe Hill, Gregg Hurwitz, Davide Mana, Samuel Marolla, Vonda N. McIntyre, A.D. Miller, Tim Murphy, Daniel José Older, Chris Pavone, Aidan Donnelley Rowley, Adrian Selby, Nick Stone, Patrick S. Tomlinson, Fran Wilde

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