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Friday, March 11, 2016

Notes on THE BOOK OF NEGROES by Lawrence Hill

At the Canadian Screen Awards, the big winner in drama was CBC’s miniseries The Book of Negroes, which took home nine CSAs, including best direction in a dramatic program or limited series for Clement Virgo, best original music score for a program for Philip Miller, best performance by an actor in a leading role in a dramatic program or limited series for Lyriq Bent, and best performance by an actress in a featured supporting role in a dramatic program or series for Shailyn Pierre-Dixon (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/awards-and-festivals/film-awards/book-of-negroes-big-winner-at-canadian-screen-awards/article29105686/?cmpid=rss1&click=sf_globe).

These wins inspired me to post my notes on the book by Lawrence Hill which I read back in September of 2008.

4 Stars
The Book of Negroes is narrated by Aminata Diallo as an old woman.  She tells her story beginning with her life in Mali (1745), her abduction by African slavers, her voyage aboard a slave ship, and her work on an island off the coast of South Carolina.  She escapes to New York and then to Nova Scotia.  Eventually she makes her way to Sierra Leone and finally to London where she works with abolitionists of the slave trade.  This inclusive narrative around one memorable character is reminiscent of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

I especially enjoyed the insight into Meena’s African childhood and the migration of the Black Loyalists to Shelburne and Birchtown (Nova Scotia) which I have visited. 

I admired Aminata’s struggle to control her own life.  She learns quickly the power of language and literacy and uses it to begin her political resistance against slavery.  Unfortunately, she was not totally realistic.  She is almost too good to be true.  She seems to lead a charmed life despite the horrors she endures.  She is intelligent and beautiful, with a facility for languages, traits that always distinguish her and ensure her survival.  And her unlikely discovery in a London crowd threatens the integrity of the narrative.

At times it seems that the author tried to put too much into the book.  I appreciated his historical research but felt that the focus was sometimes on history, not the narrative.  Though not totally engrossing, it is definitely a worthwhile read.  I would expect it to be picked for Oprah’s book club.