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The Life of Olaudah Equiano

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,347 Ratings  ·  205 Reviews
Published in 1789, Equiano's autobiography was the first of its kind to influence a wide audience. He told the story of his life and suffering as a slave. He describes scenes of outrageous torture and made it clear to his readers how the institution of slavery dehumanized both owner and slave. Equiano's work became an important part of the abolitionist cause, because he wa ...more
Hardcover, 190 pages
Published December 1st 2009 by Cosimo Classics (first published 1789)
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Aug 01, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: maritime historians, anyone interested in the african diaspora, 1001 books readers
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
Olaudah Equiano and his interesting narrative provide an insight into a time and situation that few people survived to record or recall, and those that did survive were rarely ever literate. For this reason, and so many others, Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa as he was later christened) has a unique story to tell.

Kidnapped from his home in an Ibo village (Nigeria),Equiano is enslaved by people of his own race and traded between tribal groups for over nine months before he finally makes it to the coas
I went through a variety of stages while reading this book. First, I was very interested. The opening 40 pages drew me in. I was taken with this small boy being ripped from everything he knew. Then, Gustavus Vassa's interesting life got really boring. The story itself was riveting, but the writing was difficult to get through. It is, probably, typical of the time, but not for my own 21st century tastes. I powered through, because I think that this is, historically, an important book to read. Vas ...more
Sep 18, 2010 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For some reason, human suffering has always been slowly and steadily insinuating itself into what I enjoy reading. Sometimes though, the understanding of it does not seem universal anymore, at least, not like it used to be. Sympathy is not as strong as it once was, but in my house and home, I was raised to believe that all creatures were made equal, well, the human ones anyhow. A contemporary novel(and quite a thick one too!), Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese was a touching decendant of thi ...more
Vaishali Joglekar
Dec 09, 2014 Vaishali Joglekar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
Chilling account of a man born free in Africa, sold into slavery, spends most of life on the high seas, and finally acquires freedom. He experiences the treatment of blacks in its myriad forms on 3 continents. I was struck by how singularly good he is, how thoroughly honest, even relating some flubs. This adds considerably to its validity, which for me is important viz. historicity.

Since his thoughts are mostly clear and compassionate, we have a few jewels of expression :

"Cowardice is ever the c
Marc Kohlman
Jan 07, 2016 Marc Kohlman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A moving epic autobiography! When I first saw the 2007 film "Amazing Grace", Equiano's (played by Youssou N'Dour) life, trials and accomplishments fascinated me so much that I was very eager to read his story. His prose is vivid, strong and deep with exquisite details and a human depth. As a person of African descent, I found myself identifying more with Equiano the further I read. All the while, imagining who my ancestors had been, where from Africa they hailed and how they survived the dreaded ...more
Cassandra Wilson
Feb 08, 2011 Cassandra Wilson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Describing an intense journey of being captured, enslaved, and freed, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavas Vassa, The African is a book, which provides firsthand details of the traumatic stronghold slavery held over those directly and indirectly affected by slavery. Olaudah vividly describes each capture, being with various masters, and working aboard various ships. Initially after his capture, Olaudah desires only one thing: DEATH. Eventually, Olaudah accepts his ...more
This is from my son Dallin, age 12, who read the book:

I learned that you should control your temper. If you are mad at someone and start beating up on them it's your own fault if they don't listen to you. They won't listen to you because you have been beating up on them. i learned that the Africans had slaves among themselves.

Equiano was a great man. He was the most famous anti-slavery man in England. Even more than William Wilberforce. England was a safer place for slaves to be than the West I
Nicholas Whyte
Jan 09, 2012 Nicholas Whyte rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This is the autobiography of an 18th-century slave, sold from his home in West Africa as a child to work on the West Indian fleet and around the Anglophone Atlantic shores, before becoming a freeman, missionary and political activist. It's an absolutely riveting first-hand account, not only for the awful conditions of slavery (and indeed for freed blacks) in the British empire of the day, but also because of Equiano's unabashed enthusiasm for naval combat
Mar 31, 2013 Joel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The autobiography of an 18th-century slave (primarily a sailor, not a plantation hand), starting with his capture as a boy in west Africa.

The striking thing about Equiano's narrative is that, in many ways, it reads as a best-case-scenario of what life as a slave could be like. Certainly he recounts many tales of ill treatment; some suffered by himself, some which he only witnessed. But, unlike most slaves, he had opportunities to receive education; become literate; and earn his own money on the
Oct 12, 2008 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: Professor O'Grady
Shelves: school, 2008, 1001
This novel was on my reading list for a 2000-level English class, so I have sat through a number of lectures concerning Equiano. This book set the precedent for slave narratives, and is an interesting insight into the life of a "free" man, including his difficulty in gaining his freedom, and his struggle in keeping it. This work is a successful example of mimicry -- Equiano mimicked his oppressors and in doing so obtained some level of acceptance. However, due to his differences (in this case, s ...more
Lauren Csaki
Apr 02, 2015 Lauren Csaki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating read. How often do you get to read a firsthand account of an 18th century African kidnapped into slavery and brought to the New World? Yes, the writing style is different (it's from the 1790s!) and may be a little difficult to get through if you're not used to reading material from that time period. It's worth it. Yes, there is controversy about whether he may have actually been born in South Carolina, and based his African origin story on other contemporary accounts. But ...more
May 05, 2013 Patricia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Seeing every event in his life as God's hand of mercy in drawing him to Himself, Olaudah Equiano takes his readers on a journey to see the horrors of slavery in the European colonies as well as the brutal treatment free Africans receive at the hands of the Europeans. Equiano is more fortunate than most slaves at the time, mostly under relatively kind masters (if a slave owner can be called kind, that is). Even more fortunately, he is able to buy his freedom. He later converts to Christianity aft ...more
Odi Shonga
Aug 02, 2015 Odi Shonga rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There really is little more interesting than to read the words of a slave become a free man and sailor in one of the most... let's say, curious... eras of semi-modern history.

Very little else is more interesting than looking back through the annals of history and finding alternate voices and seeing what they had to say, listening to their experiences; rather than our usual feeding of great white male figures. I'm not saying the more traditional aspects of history aren't interesting too, but hear
Kristi Fites
A look into the life of a man stolen from Africa and his journey from that point. I loved his thoughtful tribute to his country and his family in the beginning. The middle was a little hard to get through unless you are into sailing. But the book overall provided a unique look into the life of a slave at that time. And helps build a bigger picture of the realities of that time.
Judah Martin
Equiano may have jumped the gun a bit in describing his narrative as "interesting." It is by all accounts a tedious read but, nevertheless, it is an important text, particularly because it served as a model for authors of later slave narratives. Still, I was frustrated with the amount of time Equiano devoted to preaching Christianity. I found this somewhat odd, since he would have presumably practiced a different religion native to the region of Africa he originated from. If that is the case, ac ...more
Monty Milne
Aug 12, 2015 Monty Milne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is impossible to read this without being moved with a sense of pity at the sufferings the author underwent, revulsion at the institution of slavery, and anger at the injustice and discrimination he endured. The horrors of slavery are of course well known, but I was not prepared for the breathtaking injustices which continue to be visited on the author even once he gains his freedom. The Law, which was in any case deeply unjust, is discarded with impunity by the white oppressors. As a free man ...more
Oct 19, 2014 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was super great and I really loved it... until it just turned into blatant sea voyage/allegory for spiritual autobiography. I'm not about that crap. Well, I mean, it's fine, but I just wanted to hear more of his adventures in various countries and the things he saw. All the bits about the injustices and inhumane treatment slaves worldwide suffered at the hands of oppressors were actually great, I loved Equiano's economic take on why slavery was ultimately bad for a cohesive global market an ...more
Oct 05, 2014 Jenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Truth be told, I was confused by this book, this "autobiography". The title says The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano and it certainly was interesting. However, I kept asking myself why reading this autobiography felt more like reading Gulliver's Travels than a former slave's account of his life.
It was very abridged, leaving out the horrors and tragedy that a slave may have witnessed by the hands of their owner. I sincerely do not want to sound bloodthirsty or in need of sens
Nov 27, 2011 Kingfan30 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Slavery is something that is difficult to comprehend now, but it was big business when Olaudah was young. I visited The Gambia earlier this year where a lot of slaves were sold and on the tour we were taken to visit a holding island, they are quite honest that they are as much to blame for the slave trade as the white people, if there are people willing to buy, there are locals that will find them to sell. I had never really thought about it this way before, but I can see now how this would have ...more
Dustyn Hessie
A few semesters back this was the first book we read for my African American Literature class. As a biracial student, and artist, this book sort of offended me -- but only because it was a required reading! You see, the issue I had with this book was that it wasn't high quality writing, by almost any standard. It was like reading a dull history lesson; the latter half of the narrative is what I call "Church in a Book." Upon finishing this text I asked my professor: "So, is this literature... or ...more
Rachel Henley
Written by himself and about himself, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is a memoir about an African boy, Olaudah Equaino, as he grows up as a slave. He recounts his life story, starting with being kidnapped out of his home in Africa and being sold into slavery, and concludes with his achievements of becoming a British antislavery advocate. Considering what slaves had to go through, Equiano was rather lucky when it came to his masters and how they treated him. However, for ...more
Jennifer M. Hartsock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Smuel Mackereth
Oct 05, 2012 Smuel Mackereth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is indeed a truly interesting narrative, Equiano jumps from adventure to adventure like an 18th Century Biggles. This is however an account filled with human feeling, insight, and complexity. Not only is this a fascinating historical account of the atlantic slave trade and the complexity of race relations in three corners of the Atlantic but it is also of great encouragement and challenge. The book is an almost prototypical example of the modern evangelical conversion narrative (of course n ...more
Interesting to know that this was probably the first slave narrative written.
He uses a lot of interesting rhetorical devices to try and stir sentiments for the abolition of slavery, but he seems to undercut this when he tells the owners of slaves to treat their slaves well - because that means they will work harder and be more docile in their role. I understand that Equiano does this because there are those who will not vote to abolish slavery, so this is his way of still trying to make the sit
This was a gripping and touching autobiography about a slave's life from a slave's perspective. Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped at age 11 from his African village and sold into slavery. His story raises awareness of the cruel behavior of slave owners and his desire to end slave trade. All through his details, I was amazed how he stayed positive and grew through his experiences. He eventually ended up in Britain and helped Wilberforce's antislavery movement that ended slave trade for good in Britai ...more
Jul 25, 2007 Juju rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The author has a charming writing style. The thing that disturbed me about this book, however, was that the author didn't seem to be arguing for the abolition of slavery at all. Numerous times in the book, following a description of some of the cruelties imposed on the slaves, the author takes the opportunity to share with the reader his insight that a well-treated slave is a happy slave, and therefore a hard-working slave.

Instead of the abolition of slavery, what the author seems to be aiming f
Jul 26, 2015 Kasi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Equiano, you are so amazing. I hated to love this book because of the horrible reality and light than shines on slavery from kidnap by those who are supposed to be your own people, a slave to your own people, and then forced to be shipped out to a new world as a slave, all from childhood? Does anybody know an 11 year old boy (or girl) who could have endured the horrors that Equaino did and still survive to tell his tale? Through all of the bad, he still found goodness in a few of the white folk ...more
Jun 19, 2016 Sylvester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A slave born and raised in the heart of Ethiopia (already a slave in Ethiopia by fellow Africans), was taken by the British vessel and went on a long series of journeys to many different parts of the world and eventually found Jesus and freed himself. The memoir of Gustavus Vassa is one that will surely entertain but I am not too sure about the accuracy of the story at all.
Amber Laws
Important book about the ills of slavery

Randomly came across this book via a clip on YouTube. Not the easiest book to get thru. Lots of things that will make your stomach turn. But an invaluable (and rare) look at slavery from the eyes of the slave. Wish more people acknowledged how this is a direct correlation to what we witness today!
Rick Jones
Dec 17, 2015 Rick Jones rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had not been acquainted with Equianos' story, until a recent visit to Montserrat. Maybe English schoolchildren get more exposure. BUT. 18th century language notwithstanding, this is an easy to read, first hand account from the gentlest slave voice you are likely to read. You hear the anger in his voice, but as a living man of the time, he is engaged in his own slave story and his efforts to change it,. I recommend this to anyone, wishing to get a feel for any part of the slavery story.
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Also known as Gustavus Vassa, Olaudah Equiano was one of the most prominent Africans involved in the British movement of the abolition for the slave trade. Although enslaved as a young man, he purchased his freedom and worked as an author, merchant, and explorer in South America, the Caribbean, the Arctic, the American colonies, and the United Kingdom.
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“...and I had a great curiosity to talk to the books, as I thought they did; and so to learn how all things had a beginning: for that purpose I have often taken up a book, and have talked to it, and then put my ears to it, when alone, in hopes it would answer me; and I have been very much concerned when I found it remained silent.” 9 likes
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