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The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Written by Himself

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  8,018 Ratings  ·  290 Reviews
More than just a fascinating story, Olaudah Equiano's autobiography -- the first slave narrative to be widely read -- reveals many aspects of the eighteenth-century Western world through the experiences of one individual. This edition is the first in more than twenty-five years to offer the complete text of the Life together with a comprehensive twenty-page introduction an ...more
Paperback, 222 pages
Published April 15th 1995 by Bedford Books (first published 1789)
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May 16, 2011 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
Generally regarded as one of the best slave narratives ever written, the book is Equiano describing his life, beginning with how he was kidnapped in Africa at age 11 and sold into slavery. The interesting thing about this book is that Equiano doesn't just survive the Middle Passage, but actually crosses the Atlantic multiple times, traveling from South America to England to the American Colonies to the Caribbean to the Middle East, all while trying to win his freedom. It's a passionate anti-slav ...more
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
My wife was so excited when she found out I was reading this, because she says she now knows the worst possible answer to "What are you into?" "I'm pretty into 18th-century slave narratives." It's a good thing I'm already married, she says. Worst Tinder profile ever.

Anyway, so I'm pretty into 18th-century slave narratives. That mostly just means this one book, the first major slave narrative, which was a ginormous success when it was published in 1789, going to eight editions and remaining conti
Apr 17, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
DNF at 13 percent.

I feel bad for not finishing this, but this whole book has been a struggle, which is why it sat on my currently reading shelf for months.

The book is a stream of consciousness writing by Olaudah Equiano. Mr. Equiano also known as Gustavus Vassa was a prominent African living in London. He was a freed slave that supported the British movement to end the slave trade. This autobiography is considered to be one of the main reasons that the the Slave Trade Act of 1807 ended up being
Aug 08, 2017 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: slave-narrative
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano (1789)

Oct 30, 2009 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
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
Jean Poulos
Olaudah Equiano wrote his memoir in 1789 as a two-volume work. Following the publication of his book, he traveled throughout Great Britain as an abolitionist and author. He married Susanna Collen in 1792, and had two daughters. Equiano died in London in 1797.

The first part of the book describes Equiano’s native African culture and countryside. He was born in Eboe, in what is now Nigeria. He tells of his capture as a child along with his sister and being sold into slavery. He was sent to the West
Nov 13, 2014 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
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A moving slave narrative, a heartfelt confession of faith, a thought-provoking historical record, and a seafaring adventure story all in one. It gets a little slow at times due to the period language, but it's a thoroughly absorbing read.
Nicholas Whyte
Jan 09, 2012 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 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
Marc Kohlman
Jun 04, 2013 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 Wilder
Jan 14, 2011 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
Jan 07, 2008 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
Mar 15, 2015 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 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
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.
Amazing piece of nonfiction and a valuable contribution to the history of slavery in the 18th century. Part adventure story, part treatise on the humane treatment of slaves, part testimony for Christianity, it is well worth the time to read and contemplate.
Oct 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An extraordinary account of an extraordinary life. I doubt if there any other accounts of African-American slavery written by someone who experienced slavery, and who traveled widely both as a slave and as a freedman around the Atlantic basin, in the same era as the Zong massacre.
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
Monty Milne
Aug 08, 2015 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
Jennifer M. Hartsock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Smuel Mackereth
Oct 03, 2012 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
Odi Shonga
Aug 02, 2015 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
Elliot A
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
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
Alison Lafferty
Oct 13, 2014 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
Nov 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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Dr. Robert J. Allison is Professor of History at Suffolk University in Boston and also teaches history at the Harvard Extension School. He graduated from the Harvard Extension School with an A.L.B. before earning a Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization at Harvard in 1992.

Professor Allison received the Harvard Extension School's Petra Shattuck Distinguished Teaching Award in 1997, the Suffo
More about Robert J. Allison...

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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.” 12 likes
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