Brian's Reviews > The Book of Negroes

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
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Mar 27, 09

Read in March, 2009

I found it absorbing; I found it readable. I wanted to like it more than I actually did. If any of Horatio Alger's characters had been born African and sold into slavery, Aminita Diallo might be its preincarnation. It's hard to say that any slave is fortunate, yet Aminita, compared to those around her, keeps drawing to an inside straight only to be dealt the right card. Hollywood should love it. Maybe plausibility is not the most important element in historical fiction. The story "feels good" from beginning to end in spite of the sordid background; our hero manages to rise above it, to persevere against all odds, and drink from the Holy Grail in the final chapter. She becomes a mix of Indiana Jones, Roy Rogers and Gandalf, a fine role model for underprivileged 21st century youth. But even as I was drawn into the mythos of accomplishment and social triumph, I kept objecting that the slave trade was not a literary romance but a real time irony and tragedy. In much the same way Horatio Alger sold a dream to oppressed workers, Lawrence Hill uses Aminita to revises a horrific chapter of human history just enough to give hope to a generation so far removed from it, the truth might be met with disbelief. But does that end justify the fiction?
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Hope I agree with Brian. I also found the book to be very readable. It was quite expansive in the way it handled the complexity and diversity of experiences among slave communities in this country. It's an informative read, especially for those who don't know much about the slave experience. For those who do, some of the historical inaccuracies can be distracting. And at times I was annoyed that Mr. Hill seemed to try too hard to make the reader feel warm and fuzzy and for me, it sacrificed the overall credibility of the story. That said, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes epic dramas.

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