Washington Black

By Esi Edugyan

The Short Take:

Excellent story about a child field slave who is chosen as the manservant of an eccentric naturalist and inventor, and the adventures that ensue. At times disturbingly brutal, it’s also filled with great wonder.

Why?

Life that begins on a sugar plantation in Barbados is bound to be laden with pain, humiliation, and fear. Eleven-year-old George Washington Black, called Wash, knows this well. His only refugee is Big Kit, a large, fierce woman whose protection comes with its own set of risks.

Wash is a brilliantly drawn character and his evolution over the course of Edugyan’s novel is full of thoughtful evaluations of his surroundings, exceptional understanding of others, and growing self-awareness. His transformative journey begins when he becomes the manservant of the plantation owner’s brother, Christopher Wilde. Wilde treats him more as an assistant and servant than as a slave; and their relationship continues to evolve.

When a tragedy strikes that could end Wash’s life, Wilde initiates an escape that sends them on a remarkable journey which includes stark arctic wilderness and Moroccan deserts. However, don’t be misled by the cover art. This no Around the World in 80 Days.

Despite all the unexpected opportunities that come Wash’s way, fear of recapture is never far away. Even as he strives for true freedom, he recognizes that as a black man his world will always be limited, his talents largely unrecognized. All Edugyan’s prose sings, but in Wash she has created a soul that sings as well.

A Little Plot:

Young Wash Black is made the manservant of Christopher Wilde. When Wilde discovers Wash’s artistic talent, he becomes much more and his universe begins to change and expand, not unlike a hot air balloon.

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