Book review: The Book of Negroes

Canadian author Lawrence Hill’s novel The Book of Negroes is an enlightening work that documents the journey of a young girl sold into slavery after being abducted from her village in West Africa.

With the riots and racial tensions that have recently occurred in Ferguson and throughout the United States, this novel clearly addresses themes still relevant in today’s society.

Hill titled his novel after a document kept during the American Revolutionary War.

The Book of Negroes was a document that listed the names of African-American slaves that escaped to the British lines during the American Revolution; all those listed on the document were later sent to Nova Scotia as free individuals. Although the novel is fictional, it’s based on historical events, and the aforementioned document plays a pivotal role in the plot.

The novel begins by providing a detailed view into the life of Aminata Diallo and her western African village, Bayo. Set in the early 19th century, the beautiful setting and strong sense of community Aminata is exposed to throughout her youth only furthers the heartbreak readers experience as the peaceful image is shattered by the horrific historic events of the slave trade.

Aminata’s tale begins by taking readers on a long and gruelling journey across the Atlantic Ocean to South Carolina, where the harsh realities of the time become evident through the young girl’s devastating experience. The story of Aminata spans a large period of time, describing both her experience as a young girl in the slave trade and as an old woman working with abolitionists to end the very system that had taken hold of her life.

Readers can’t help but become captivated by the heart-wrenching and courageous story of Aminata, whose ability to learn and speak multiple languages, along with her knowledge of delivering babies, aids in her survival.

The Book of Negroes is an intricate and well-written tale that touches upon themes of loss, perseverance and courage. Hill creates a large variety of characters that play strong roles throughout the novel, furthering the plot and emotional experience of readers. Despite the novel’s heavy content, the simple language and descriptive style of writing makes it an easy read; it isn’t difficult to lose yourself in the pages of Aminata’s tale.

Overall, The Book of Negroes is an exceptionally written and captivating novel. Not only is it a great read, but it’s also eye-opening and particularly relevant to current events.

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