Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Washington Black

Rate this book
A dazzling adventure story about a boy who rises from the ashes of slavery to become a free man of the world.

George Washington Black, or "Wash," an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is terrified to be chosen by his master's brother as his manservant. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning--and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything.

What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self.

From the blistering cane fields of the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, from the earliest aquariums of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black tells a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, of a world destroyed and made whole again, and asks the question, What is true freedom?

384 pages, Paperback

First published August 2, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Esi Edugyan

15 books1,458 followers
Esi Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006).

Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. It was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was a More Book Lust selection, and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of 2004's Books to Remember.

Edugyan has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. She has taught creative writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria, and has sat on many international panels, including the LesART Literary Festival in Esslingen, Germany, the Budapest Book Fair in Hungary, and Barnard College in New York City.

She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
18,231 (27%)
4 stars
29,825 (45%)
3 stars
14,217 (21%)
2 stars
2,629 (4%)
1 star
515 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,299 reviews
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
March 15, 2019
5 stars for part one of the book because it excited my interest.
4 stars for the generally, really wonderful writing.
3 stars for the second part of the book, good but elements were starting not to hang together.
2 stars for the third part because I was getting fed up with tell rather than show.
1 star for the sheer, dragging boredom of all the unlikely things that happen and the just as unlikely rationales, and having to wade my way through what now seems like turgid prose just to say "I finished the book".

I made the effort and finished the book. It had a strong start with an unusual twist on slavery in the West Indies and introduced a lot of really good plot lines, most of which were abandoned. The second part of the book set in the Arctic ended up making no sense whatsoever and when later it was referred to as if to try and clear up a rather stupid scene, it made even less sense.

Do not read the spoiler if you are going to read the book.

The third part of the book, Washington establishing himself is all tell and not show and although there is an attempt to create an interesting, strong female character, only the "interesting" and "strong" bits are detailed, there is too much left unsaid that is unguessable, at least to me, or perhaps I didn't try hard enough because my interest was flagging.

The final part reads as if the author had a diagram in front of her with all plot lines and characters on it and one by one, she deals with each character and clears up the plot lines.

One plot line which got a major ending, major ridiculous too was the story of the slave hunter turned insurance fraud man. He has it in for Washington because he never captured him before the end of slavery and returned him to his masters to get a vast reward and when he sees him, attacks him. Washington gets him back. Years later, at the end of the book, Washington says,

"I had not killed him all those months ago in Nova Scotia because I had not wanted to take a life. It had been a badge to me, a triumph of decency. Seeing him now, I understood how false was my self-congratulation, my high moral stance. I had been afraid, that is all. The true mercy would have been to kill him, to give him the death he had been thirsting after all these years. For that had been the true prize in all his years of hunting me: the gift of a death at my hands, a death befitting his ideals, a martyrdom." What crap. Really. People don't think like that at all. "Thirsting for martyrdom", a bounty hunter?

What is very strange is that every character who is looking for another in different parts of the world always finds them, be it the Arctic, Canada, Morocco, the UK, whereverthis is before phones and although there is mail, I'm not sure how you get a letter from the Arctic to Barbados or the home counties in England in a timely enough fashion people would still be in the same place years later.

I don't read much fiction, but this sounded exciting and the writing got so much praise (it generally deserves it) so perhaps people who read a lot of fiction might appreciate it a lot more than I did.

Notes on reading the book.
Profile Image for Trudie.
544 reviews582 followers
September 12, 2018
Despite a cover that is currently winking at me with come-hither gold foiled clouds, this book was one mammoth slog from beginning to end. The most generous thing I can find to say is that it fairly "zips along" but to what purpose I am unsure.

Much focus has been placed on why a crime novel like Snap is on the Man Booker longlist but at the moment I am looking askance at this middling historical fiction / adventure tale. I am not adverse to historical fiction, Hilary Mantel being the master in my eyes, nor do I distain the odd adventure story ( The North Water - polar bears ! Eskimos ! Murder ! ) however this book is one damp squib of disappointment by comparison.

It starts on a sugar plantation in Barbados in 1830 and so would seem to be headed in the direction of a slave narrative but this ain't no Homegoing or The Underground Railroad. Many of the characters, had potential but ultimately lacked depth and often drifted inexplicably away, (Big Kit, Titch) . Bad guys were easy to spot they were marked out early by their ghostly white, sickly countenances, flinty and/or watery eyes and most damming of all, their thin pale lips often curled into a snarl. They may as well just had a sign pinned on them "evil".

The novel slowly morphs into a sort of Victorian era adventure novel complete with a "gentleman scientist" the enigmatic, Titch, roaming about tasting grass and dirt, putting electric eels in barrels and dabbling unwisely with hot air balloons. I had been looking forward to this much vaunted balloon which graces my cover in all it's Steampunk glory but it is soon abandoned in a ridiculous scene of misadventure. I am unsure how a book that seems to hint at a rollicking tale is so devoid of any truly thrilling moments. Even the attempt at the shadowy slave catcher plot line petered out without raising a pulse.

Usually, I can find something redeeming to say about a 400 page novel, lets see, there were some picturesque descriptions of nudibranches and colourful ink-squirting Octopodes. It was nice that the main character, an ex-slave known as Washington Black, was an undiscovered scientific genius. Largely self-taught he excelled as a botanical illustrator, diver, marine biologist, and inventor of the worlds first aquarium - a truly remarkable fellow.

Obviously, this book managed to set off several hot buttons for things that frustrate me in books which is not just limited to underutilised balloons. However, I have in all likelihood been more mean-spirited here because this book made the Man Booker longlist which is unconscionable to me in a year when there is a plethora of brilliantly written and challenging fiction.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.4k followers
December 15, 2018
4.5 stars, rounded up.

"How was it possible, thought I, that we lived in such nightmare and all the while a world of men continued just over the horizon, men such as these, in ships moving in any direction the wind might lead them?"

George Washington ("Wash") Black is an 11-year-old slave growing up on a sugar plantation in Barbados in 1830. He has felt the cruelty of his master and his overseers, and seen the violence with which other slaves are treated. But when the master dies, there is little time to rejoice, as the new master appears to be equally, if not more, twisted and sadistic.

Wash is surprised and frightened when he is pulled from the fields to become the manservant to the master's eccentric brother. Christopher Wilde, or Titch, as Wash calls him, is a man of science, a man desperate to study the natural world around him and make brilliant discoveries. Titch treats Wash as his research assistant, and under Titch's tutelage, Wash's talent for nature drawing begins to flourish.

Titch's greatest dream is to soar through the skies in the Cloud-Cutter, a balloon-like contraption he has designed. No one, Wash included, believes it will ever be able to leave the ground or travel far, yet Titch is determined to make sure it is ready for the right conditions. And when a man dies, and Wash is the leading suspect, Titch and Wash know they must disappear far from Barbados—and they hope the Cloud-Cutter will help them get on their way.

The two make their way across the Atlantic, traveling up the east coast of the U.S., up into Canada and eventually, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. All the while they live in fear that the bounty hunter searching for Wash will find them, but they fail to understand that black men are treated the same way no matter where they are.

"It had happened so gradually, but these months with Titch had schooled me to believe I could leave all misery behind, I could cast off all violence, outrun a vicious death. I had even begun thinking I'd been born for a higher purpose, to draw the earth's bounty, and to invent; I had imagined my existence a true and rightful part of the natural order. How wrong-headed it had all been. I was a black boy, only—I had no future before me, and little grace or mercy behind me. I was nothing, I would die nothing, hunted hastily down and slaughtered."

When Titch and Wash are separated, Wash realizes for the first time that he is the only person he can count on to save himself and change his life's circumstances. His journey takes him through Canada, to England, Amsterdam, and the windswept deserts of Morocco. Amazingly, he learns the lessons it takes men their entire lives to learn (if that), lessons about betrayal, love, identity, independence, and self-worth.

Washington Black is a tremendously thought-provoking look at a boy who becomes a man as most of the world looks at him as less than that. Wash knows he is more than people believe he is, yet proving that to them—and himself—causes more emotional pain, and puts him at great risk. He is a tremendously fascinating character, one it will be very hard to forget.

Esi Edugyan is a magnificent storyteller, and in addition to the suspenseful, emotional, powerful parts of her story, she does a fantastic job with imagery as well, as her characters travel across the world. This book is a meditation on what freedom truly is, and how we are just as responsible for freeing ourselves as those whom have kept us captive. It is a story that will make you think, it will make you angry at times, and in the end, it will make you feel.

I've never read anything of Edugyan's before, but I was tremendously impressed with her talent. This isn't necessarily a fast-paced book although it never felt slow. I just immersed myself in Wash's incredible journey.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,635 reviews2,149 followers
November 23, 2018
I was curious about how people reviewed this book and it appears that the Goodreads consensus is "a historical adventure story that gets more boring as time passes" and I would like to say for the record that these reviews are all wrong.

Yes, technically I suppose you can classify this as an adventure story. There are journeys across several countries and continents, there are searches and escapes, there is a cast of eccentric characters. But I don't really care much for that kind of story, I don't get much of a thrill from blimps or ships or what have you. And while clearly Edugyan is piling on these Victorian adventure twists and enjoying it, it is not her true purpose. It's just the trappings and it seems to me, especially from those who seem to find the book getting progressively less interesting, that many readers haven't seen the forest for the trees.

Because ultimately this is a moving and sad book about how a slave who becomes a freeman forms his own identity. How can you see yourself as a full person when you were born in a world where you were not a person? How can you give yourself humanity when the people around you do not see you as fully human? Wash's adventures are not rollicking fun because he spends much of his life looking over his shoulder, worried that he is going to be captured and made a slave again. How do you try to build a life and enjoy it when it could be taken away from you at any moment?

For me, Wash's story gets more interesting as time passes and he gets more removed from his life as a slave. He begins to ask bigger questions and Edugyan presents one of the most modern and complex takes on abolitionists I've ever seen, one that you cannot help but consider in a present day context. This book bubbles with modern questions on race and allyship, about seeing people as symbols, about idealism vs pragmatism, and how even so-called "good" people can still be infected with racism even when they try to work against racist systems.

I can get easily bogged down in historical fiction that's too heavy but that didn't happen here, though I did have to work a bit to slow myself down. There are a few scenes that are so intense, especially one involving a slave catcher, that I had a physical reaction. I'm so glad this got enough awards attention to catch my eye, it absolutely deserves it. A truly stellar accomplishment, and a book I'd consider reading either as a companion to Whitehead's THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD or as a substitute if you're worried that book is going to be too traumatic. This one has much less active racial violence and fear, though there is obviously some.
Profile Image for Read By RodKelly.
206 reviews753 followers
September 25, 2018
I'm SHOCKED this is on the Man Booker Shortlist...
The book has an incredibly strong opening: the pacing and character development are pitch perfect, a real page-turner. However, about 150 pages in, the plot dissolves and morphs into one of those clunky YA narratives: this happens, then this happens, then this happens. We're told, not shown, and this endless chain of events leads NO WHERE. I'm pissed 🙃
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews585 followers
November 1, 2018
Audiobook narrated by Dion Graham.....( great raspy voice)

The language -words - sentences - dialogue - are beautiful, intense, suspenseful, with ranges of temperatures - smells - creatures - smiles - fierceness - wildness - anxiousness - desire - softness- gentleness- electrifying moments - harrowing scenes - present stillness - quietness - saucy entertaining - touching - astonishing - unsettling - genuinely felt ....( the fear, the feelings of bitterness, the will for violence - kill or be killed - the struggle of desolation - the sadness of running - from being a black boy) -
the absurdity that awareness is - from the lowest of days to moments of flashes - the breathlessness of color from seeing a grand sea of bliss - glowing radiant light & music in the sea - tree frogs - bones - gratefulness of renew -
from a boy of slavery to sparkles of celebrations - overwhelmed by what life might be......

I was drawn in completely to the storytelling with the WONDERFUL NARRATOR, *Dion Graham*......and I was sooo in ‘aw’ enjoying the gorgeous prose!

This novel - historical fiction being part of it - felt to me a little like a fantasy adult fairy tale. I was reminded of the classic “Around the World In Eighty Days”. Not the same of course - but I hadn’t thought about the story in years until this novel.

.......step into the world of brutal troubles - and tranquil nirvana - with an Audiobook DAZZLING NARRATOR!!!!

This is the first time I have experienced the writing from Esi Edugyan. She’s incredibly skillful. I ENJOYED HER IMAGINATION & PROSE a lot!!!
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
October 1, 2018
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018

My seventh book from the longlist is another choice that may have surprised people, and I found it a very enjoyable read. It gives the adventure story a modern twist by making its eponymous hero a slave born on a plantation in Barbados in the early 19th century.

The Faith Plantation's owner has died, leaving it in the hands of the sadistic and barbarous Erasmus Wilde, almost a caricature villain. Brought into the house as a waiter, Wash catches the eye of the owner's brother Titch (Christopher), who takes him on as an assistant to help him realise his innovative balloon known as the Cloud Cutter, and he soon attracts attention for his skilful drawing.

The brothers are at odds, and Wash becomes a pawn in their battle, which puts him in mortal danger, but Titch proposes their escape on the balloon. Their ensuing adventures are implausible, but Edugyan's storytelling skills are such that you want to go along with her wilder flights of fancy.

In the second half of the book Wash is largely responsible for the design of a revolutionary aquarium, and this part of the story has a grain of truth behind it. The world of eccentric 19th century gentleman scientists is brilliantly caricatured, and the whole thing is great fun to read.

Yes, it is a shaggy dog story, but a well written and exuberant one.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews921 followers
October 8, 2018
This is the Man Booker title that I was the most trepidatious about picking up this year, not because I doubted its quality, but just because there is nothing about a nineteenth century Caribbean and North American-set historical fiction adventure tale that appeals to me. So with that said, I guess I did enjoy this more than I expected to... just not enough to really understand its inclusion on the Booker shortlist over more structurally innovative and intellectually stimulating titles.

This book's greatest asset ironically ended up being a detriment for me, and that was the fact that it's incredibly well-written. The thing that immediately struck me about this book was how incongruously poised its first person narration is. Though the character Washington does show a natural intelligence throughout the story, one does have to question where an uneducated boy born into slavery picked up vocabulary words like unconscionable, inviolate, incandescence, leadenly, and disconsolate (these are only a portion of the ones I highlighted which jumped out at me, and I wasn't even including dialogue from other characters). So while I would describe the prose as smart and pleasurable to read, and while I'd seek out more books by Edugyan in the future for this factor alone, I don't think it suited this particular book.

But my bigger problem with Washington Black is the way that the plot seemed to drive the characters throughout the narrative, and not the other way around. To describe this premise and execution as contrived is an understatement. As I was reading, I felt like I could constantly see Edugyan's hand manipulating these characters into the situations that they found themselves in, and this never ended up feeling like anything other than outlandish fiction. I have no problem with coincidences and fate being used by an author deliberately and thematically (see: The Heart's Invisible Furies), but it's a fine line to walk, and if this is what Edugyan was attempting, I'm afraid her efforts ended up seeming to me more like plot devices than divine intervention.

It's a pacey and readable book from beginning to end (especially the end - I loved the last few chapters quite a lot), but the narrative structure of 'character zips along from place to place, encountering quirky characters who quickly come and go' will never be my favorite formula, and though there's occasionally incisive commentary on the relationship between white abolitionists and freed slaves in the nineteenth century, none of it is really groundbreaking enough that I feel terribly enriched for having read this. I could have forgiven it a lot for being an entertaining story through and through, but despite the fact that I breezed through it in two days, it was a thoroughly lukewarm reading experience that I doubt will stay with me in any kind of significant way.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,585 reviews2,805 followers
November 20, 2018
Winner of the Giller Prize 2018
The Booker judges seem to be eager to add quite some material that is highly accessible and easily readable this year, but while the inclusion of Snap seemed outrageous to me, this is a defendable choice. Edugyan writes about slavery, racism, and identity, but in the form of an adventure novel, told chronologically and in the first person. While this makes for a rather conservative narrative strategy, the author clearly knows how to compose an engaging and compelling story - and there is depth, too.

Our protagonist is George Washington Black who at the beginning of the story is an 11-year-old slave on a sugar plantation in Barbados. When the new owner's brother arrives and needs help for his science project, Wash, as people call him, gets the chance to get away from the vicious and sadistic cruelty the slaves on the plantation have to endure. Christopher Wilde, or "Titch", as the young scientist is called, borrows Wash from his brother so that he might help him work on an airship he designed - by that, Wash first gets the chance to learn about science and nature, which, along with drawing, will turn out to be his passion. When Wash, without his own doing, gets into trouble that might cost him his life, Wash and Titch flee Barbados with their "cloud-cutter".

From there on, Wash roams the world, first seeking safety as he is a runaway slave, later, when slavery is abolished, still fearing bounty hunters and looking for Titch - I will not spoil how they got separated, but I will say that Wash travels to the US, the Arctic, Canada, London, Amsterdam, and Marocco. We learn more about Titch's twisted family and witness how Wash tries to build a life, pursuing his interests in science and art.

All of this is intriguing as an adventure novel, but Edugyan also discusses the hardship Wash has to endure, because even when slavery was abolished, racism of course persisted. Wash struggles with his identity, constantly forced to look into the gap between his own potential and what society sees in him. The writing is particularly strong when Edugyan writes about the psychology of her characters, what drives them and how they suffer from their flaws and past injuries, mental and phsyical. For instance, the question arises why Titch decided to help Wash: Is he, the white upper class scientist and abolitionist who finances his endeavours with money earned by the plantation, a good person, or does he just pursue self-serving goals? Sometimes it seems like Titch does not know himself.

Sure, the novel partly comes close to a fairy tale and the narrative skeleton that carries Wash's travels always shines through - much of what happens is highly unlikely, or as the text itself puts it: "You are like an interruption in a novel, Wash. The agent that sets things off course." But realism is not the point here, Edugyan talks about history and human nature in the form of an allegory, and there are many smart ideas and strong images. This is an enjoyable, intelligent read that leaves room for interpretation and discussion.
Profile Image for Fran.
661 reviews629 followers
August 4, 2018
"A man who has belonged to another learns very early to observe a master's eyes; what I saw in this man's terrified me." Erasmus Wilde was the new master of Faith Plantation, Barbados. The year was 1830. George Washington Black "Wash" was a ten year old field slave who helped "clear the cane". Wash had no family but Big Kit, a field slave as well, nurtured him. Reading Wash's palm, she declared, "you will have a great big life, child..."

Erasmus Wilde, the eldest son of an adventurer, was left in charge of four plantations, living at and running Faith Plantation, the most profitable one. He resented his younger brother Christopher nicknamed "Titch", a scientist and adventurer. Titch could pursue anything of his choosing and what he wanted was to train Wash as his man servant. He needed someone small to assist with his scientific endeavors. His "Cloud Cutter" was a hot air balloon. Titch determined that an "airborne" balloon could support both his weight and that of a small boy. Surprisingly, Wash was discovered to be a budding artist who learned to document Titch's data and measurements and illustrate what he saw from several different vantage points. This uneducated field slave slowly tasted life outside the confines of the plantation. Could he live a meaningful existence and be acknowledged for his present and future accomplishments? It would be challenging since the vengeful Erasmus was offering a reward of 1,000 pounds for the capture of Wash. Will he ever be his own man?

"Washington Black" by Esi Edugyan was an excellent historical adventure novel that allowed the reader to witness Wash's unsettling journey. Leaving the sugar cane fields, he learned different societal expectations while experiencing shame and anger associated with rejection by the field slaves. Could his artistic renderings under the tutelage of Titch be acknowledged as his own? Does Wash have a voice? "Washington Black" by Esi Edugyan is a character study of Wash and a commentary on slavery and race in the 1800's. I highly recommend this 2018 Man Booker Long Listed Nominee.

Thank you First to Read for a digital copy in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
686 reviews3,382 followers
August 26, 2018
When considering the immeasurable evil of slavery it’s difficult to fully fathom the ramifications it had amongst so many individuals' lives. Not only were people’s freedom and lives brutally curtailed, controlled and cut short, but their talent and potential was also squandered. Esi Edugyan evocatively portrays the life of George Washington Black or “Wash”, a character with the aptitude to be a great artist and scientist were he not born into slavery on a Barbados plantation in 1818. But she grants him the potential to partially foster his talents when he comes under the apprenticeship of an eccentric scientist who is the brother of the plantation owner/overseer. What follows is a fantastically imaginative, heartrending and compulsively readable tale of his journey and growth into early adulthood. It’s a richly immersive story that also powerfully shows the perspective of slaves who feel “We had been estranged from the potential of our own bodies, from the revelation of everything our bodies and minds could accomplish.” This psychological state is complexly rendered as are the way characters surrounding Wash fail to fully empathize with him and understand the ramifications of slavery. “Washington Black” is an astounding novel.

Read my full review of Washington Black by Esi Edugyan on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Linda.
1,284 reviews1,331 followers
December 30, 2018
"I will only say that if I have acquired any wisdom from Big Kit, it is to live always with your eyes cast forward, to seek what will be, for the path behind can never be retaken."

But Fate wrapped eleven year old George Washington Black in a cloak of uncertainty from the day that he was born. What future lies ahead for a field slave in 1830 on a Barbados sugar plantation surrounded in life's drudgery and seeped in the fear of daily existence?

And yet Fate stepped in and chose Wash for a trek into a world filled with possibilities beyond the imaginable. The butterfly's wings stirred up the air into events neither envisioned nor welcomed. The plantation owner's brother, Christopher "Titch" Wilde, decided that Wash was the young boy he needed to fulfill his dreams. Titch dabbled in the scientific pursuit of sketching and categorizing the plant and sea life around Barbados. He patiently taught Wash to read and to draw in order to record his findings.

Wash's transformation from field slave to a notable documentarian is remarkable. But the cruelty of the times leaned in with the false starkness that plantation life is embedded somehow into one's DNA. Big Kit warned him about getting too close to the fire. You'll see how this affects Wash throughout the novel. When a body is found on the grounds, Titch fears that Wash will be blamed. They take to the sky in Titch's dangerous balloon in order to get off the island. It is here that the story presents event after event of man's indifference, cruelty, and hatred served deeply within a clenched fist.

Washington Black is quite the novel by Esi Edugyan. She envelopes her story with a rush of time, place, and circumstance saturated in descriptors both beautiful and horrifying. Her characters are complicated and deeply faceted. Being immersed in the years of 1830 - 1836, we question the motives of even those who appear focused and true. We marvel at the untapped talents of those who enter through the back door of Fate. Edugyan presents quite the read showcasing one man's journey where footsteps can never linger.

Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews99 followers
April 14, 2019
It has a fantasy appeal along the lines of an adventure by Jules Verne.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
March 7, 2019
I finished Edugyan's third novel today in a fog, reading the last hundred pages completely engrossed in the strangely unreal world and story Edugyan had created, about a former slave, physically damaged from years in captivity but involved in the science of creating an indoor aquarium in London—something never done before.

If at first—and I have seen such criticism—the story seemed a little derivative of Jules Verne with wondrous and far-flung adventures, Edugyan pulled it off. There were wondrous adventures when naturalists and people of science began to turn their attention outside their own environments to the larger world. Anything they could conceive of was about to be tried…travel to the Arctic, say, or to the bottom of the ocean, or ballooning long distances. The story is an absolute feast of imagination.

Race is an important component of the story in that we have an abolitionist white scientist who chooses a young slave boy to be ballast for his balloon adventure. When the white master discovers his black ballast has exceptional drawing skills, the boy’s role changes. Though they are close, there is always a power differential in their relationship that keeps the friendship from meaning as much to the white man as it does to the black man.

Edugyan sketches this kind of unconscious racism so clearly, and points to it, that one can hardly walk away from the book with one’s vision unchanged, whichever side one is on. We can put words to a feeling of alienation we may have seen or felt before but weren’t able to express.

It turns out the history of the world’s first public aquarium is much as is described in this novel, though I was unable to discover whether a very young black man was the first to come up with the idea and design of the tanks for public display of sea creatures in the mid-nineteenth century. It seems perfectly likely, as does the fact that such a man would never be acknowledged, his history expunged as a matter of course.

Edugyan is Canadian, which is not obvious. She sets a portion of the novel in Newfoundland, but otherwise the characters travel far and wide on nearly every continent. She adds an intriguing love interest for George Washington Black, the main character and former slave from Barbados. We presume Black is originally from Dahoumey in west Africa because that place name is buried deep in his subconscious and is resurrected when his life is in danger.

Black’s love interest is a mixed-race island woman of great beauty and intelligence and a rounded sense of her own potential. Her father, also a scientist, did not encourage her to develop her physical charms. One day he allowed her to purchase a few small concessions to beauty that she craved: red lipstick, a diaphanous dress, an emerald clasp. She discovered that people noticed her more but saw her less. This lesson all women must learn and decide whether to exploit or not.

The start of the novel was not particularly convincing and had the feel of a young adult novel, but it began as it meant to go on, and by midway I was involved, suspending belief, rapt, and curious. There was something about the way the role of the one-time slave was progressing that held some hope that his potential would be developed. And the history of race is not yet finished being told, since we write it every day.

It's a wonderful novel. Edugyan has written two other critically-acclaimed novels and at least two collections of stories. She has taught creative writing and has won several international awards for her work.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
September 18, 2018
“Washington Black” — one of the most anticipated books of the year — should finally get American readers to wake up to this extraordinary novelist across our Northern border. Esi Edugyan, a Canadian writer whose parents immigrated from Ghana, inspired a chorus of international praise for her previous novel, “Half-Blood Blues,” but it never attracted the audience it deserved in the United States.

That should change now.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, “Washington Black” is an engrossing hybrid of 19th-century adventure and contemporary subtlety, a rip-roaring tale of peril imbued with our most persistent strife.

The story comes to us as a memoir written by a former slave named George Washington Black, an ironic appellation that pricks at the festering wound in American mythology. When we first meet Wash — as he’s known — he’s about 11 years old, working on the Faith Plantation in Barbados. His master is shockingly cruel, even by the standards of Caribbean slavery. But when the master’s brother visits from England, Wash meets a white man who seems created from some wholly alien material.

This strange visitor is named Titch, and he will become the central figure of Wash’s life and the enduring mystery of Edugyan’s novel. Freed from the daily responsibility and, he imagines, the moral culpability of running the family business, Titch has devoted himself to . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Beata.
749 reviews1,151 followers
September 8, 2020
An interesting historicaal fiction about becoming and seeking identity during the times when the abolotionist movement started gaining more and more popuarity.
I especially enjoyed part one in which Wash, a young slave boy, is fortunate enough to become a servant to a man of many scientific interests, Christopher Wilde, and is able to transforms his life. The descriptions of life on Faith Plantation, its climate, harsh life and cruelty are truly well presented. The money made from sugar which in fact means from slave labour allows the owners to pursue their ambitions and dreams.
I admit that the historical background and the scientific pursuits of the period were what held my interest most, however, I did not find characters too likeable. Still, a good read worth my reading time.
Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,391 reviews806 followers
October 1, 2019
“Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan defies basic novel genres. It’s historical in that it begins in the year 1830 in Barbados on a sugar plantation. Our protagonist, George Washington Black, aka Wash, is an eleven-year-old slave on the plantation. The master of the plantation has died, and his brother comes to take his place. Fear is rampant as new masters can sometimes be worse than previous masters, and all of them are deadly.

Wash gains the attention of a brother of the new Master. Christopher, aka Titch, is a naturalist with the crazy idea of inventing an air balloon. Titch needs a slave to help him. Size and weight are important to act as a ballast and Wash fits the bill.

Now the story becomes an adventure in a science fiction sort of way. The device is built and Titch and Wash use it to escape the plantation after an unfortunate accident. By then, Titch has noticed an artistic ability in Wash along with Wash’s scientific mine.

The inventions don’t end there. It’s a bit of a romp of a read that is heavily weighed down by the fact that Wash is black, and slavery remains rampant. Although Wash is gifted artistically and intellectually, few see his abilities because he is black.

Wash also never knew his parentage. No one claimed him as their child; only a black woman, aka Big Kit, took an interest in him and protected him while he was on the plantation. Wash’s identity plaques him throughout the novel.

The reason to read this though is Edugyan gifts with prose. This is an incredibly beautifully written novel that rightfully has received much press and awards. Spending time with Wash was time well spent.
Profile Image for Peter.
502 reviews609 followers
August 14, 2018
I'm not sure I'd have read Washington Black if it hadn't been nominated for the Booker Prize. I just don't think it would have been on my radar. But when I examined the synopses of all the long-listed novels, it jumped right to the top of my list. Of all the books selected, it sounded like the most accessible and entertaining. And it is a fun read. It's a globe-trotting romp, a fast-paced historical adventure.

Our narrator is the eponymous George Washington Black, an eleven-year-old slave on a Barbadian sugar plantation. Like all of the other workers he is treated terribly by the sadistic owner, Erasmus Wilde, beaten for the smallest infraction. Kit, an older slave, takes him under her wing but "Wash" seems doomed to a life of servitude. That is until Christopher "Titch" Wilde shows up. He is much kinder and more thoughtful than his cruel brother - an abolitionist and a man of science. He enlists the help of Wash to help build his latest experiment, a type of flying machine he dubs "the cloud-cutter." Titch is amazed at Wash's aptitude for this work, and the uneducated boy displays a particular talent for drawing. The duo wait for the perfect conditions to launch their contraption, but they might have to avail of its services sooner than they think.

From such unpromising origins, Wash finds himself on a great adventure. His journey takes him far from his Caribbean home, out upon the high seas and even on an Arctic expedition. But there is more to his story than navigating the globe. Wash eventually begins to question his place in the world. He wonders if the scars of slavery will ever leave him. And though he owes his life to the intervention of Titch, he starts to see flaws in the one person he looks up to more than anyone else. It is as much a cautionary tale about perils of false idols, as a story about the wounds of servitude.

However, as much as I enjoyed reading this book, I felt that something was missing. It's an entertaining story but I just don't think it possesses the literary heft required of a Booker winner. There is nothing wrong with Edugyan's writing but I didn't feel that she had anything truly profound to say. And the ending seemed quite flat to me, almost unfinished. Maybe I'm being a little harsh. Though I found it rather lightweight, I'm glad I read Washington Black. It's a captivating, pacy story with a very likable hero.
Profile Image for Britta Böhler.
Author 8 books1,909 followers
June 8, 2019
An entertaining, easy read (despite the subject of the book).
Reading this book was bit like eating cotton candy: fluffy and sweet but it leaves you with a slight stomach ache and a craving for some 'real' food.

2.5* (rounded up)
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
677 reviews1,321 followers
May 17, 2019
4 stars! A spellbinding and unforgettable journey!

George Washington Black “Wash” is an eleven-year-old black boy who was born into slavery on a sugar plantation in Barbados in the early 1800’s. He knows no other life other than working the fields for endless hours, sleeping in dirt floor huts and trying his best to avoid being noticed. He is an orphan who was taken in by “Big Kit”, a well-respected elder slave, the only mother-like figure he has ever known. One day, Christopher “Titch” Wilde, the plantation owners’ brother, singles out Wash. Titch requests that Wash come to live in his quarters as his manservant. Terrified of what this might mean, Wash leaves the sugar fields and Big Kit behind to join Titch. This is the start of a surprising and epic adventure that lights a fire within Wash and brings him places he never knew existed.

I adored Wash! He is an outstanding and endearing character who I will be thinking of long after finishing this novel. He radiated innocence and naivety which pulled at my heart strings. I felt for him and all that he endured. I couldn’t shake the sense of his wonderment about how Titch treated him as a human being who had thoughts, opinions and talent. It was heartwarming to see Wash gain strength and confidence as a person from the respect Titch showed him.

The imagery was mesmerizing. Wash travels many places around the world and I could truly sense the atmosphere within each. There were a few times that I felt the narrative jumped ahead too quickly or referred back to times that we, as readers, didn’t get to witness alongside the characters, however, it didn’t detract from the overall experience.

I had the immense pleasure of attending an Author Event with Esi Edugyan. She was wonderful to listen to and provided much insight into this story which enhanced my reading enjoyment as I could fully understand her intentions and vision on what this story means. I look forward to reading more from her!

This was a Traveling Sister read with Brenda.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,300 followers
September 3, 2020
Now shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2020

"I had already seen many deaths: I knew the nature of evil. It was white like a duppy , it drifted down out of a carriage one morning and into the heat of a frightened plantation with nothing in its eyes."

Edi Edugyan's Washington Black: A Novel was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker.

The narrator starts by plunging into his story midstream before taking a step back:

"But that is no beginning. Allow me to begin again, for the record. I have walked this earth for eighteen years. I am a Freeman now in possession of my own person. I was born in the year 1818 on that sun-scorched estate in Barbados. So I was told. I had also heard it said I was born in a shackled cargo hold during a frenzied crossing of the Atlantic, aboard an illicit Dutch vessel. That would have been the autumn of 1817."

Washington Black, narrated by the eponymous character, who goes by the nickname Wash, opens with an account of his brutal life as a slave on a Barbados plantation, an account which is while harrowing, ultimately relatively well trodden territory in fiction. Looking back he contrast the horrors with the beauty of Barbados:

"There were the fanged metal jaws of a mantrap meant to catch runaways, and the blood-blackened boulder upon which several men had been whipped dead, and there was the solitary redwood wide as a carriage, from which a weathered noose hung. And there were knife marks in the tree’s bark, where men had been pinned through the throat and left to perish, and there were the raw patches where the grass had not grown back since the bodies of the old and infirm had been set there to rot.

And above it all, pristine and untroubled, sat Wilde Hall, with its clear view to the sea— a sea turquoise and glistening with phosphorus, the miles of sand pure and white as salt.

The planation is run by (the rather cartoonishly evil) Erasmus Wilde but the novel takes a more original turn when Wash is taken on as assistant by his brother Christopher ('Titch').
Titch is experimenting with manned flight on hydrogen balloons and something of a caricature of the eccentric but troubled scientist with also a rather different view on how the slaves should be treated.

"Negroes are God’s creatures also, with all due rights and freedoms, whatever their faculties and abilities. Slavery is a moral stain against us. If anything will keep white men from their heaven, it is this."

Although Wash reflects: "Only years later would his phrasing strike me.", a comment which I will return to later in my review.

Wash turns out to be a natural scientist and brilliant artist. Titch even credits him with the illustrations on papers he submits to the Royal Society and working with Titch offers Wash the chance to get away from the life to which his origins had otherwise condemned him. But even as his leaves Barbados to travel to far flung shores, he receives periodic reminders of his real status in the mid 19th Century world:

"It had happened so gradually, but these months with Titch had schooled me to believe I could leave all misery behind, I could cast off all violence, outrun a vicious death. I had even begun thinking I’d been born for a higher purpose, to draw the earth’s bounty, and to invent; I had imagined my existence a true and rightful part of the natural order.

How wrong-headed it had all been. I was a black boy, only I had no future before me, and little grace or mercy behind me. I was nothing, I would die nothing, hunted hastily down and slaughtered."

The novel, from a fictional credibility perspective, packs rather too much into a short life. Wash journeys from Barbados to the far north, over the Atlantic to London, and even to Morocco, pursued by a rather cliched bounty hunter, and scientifically he is at the cutting edge of development in, inter alia, ballooning, polar exploration and aquariums. The strands are pulled together in the figure of Erasmus and Titch's father who they find (rather bizzarely) in an igloo in the Arctic circle:

"And then I glimpsed him, a man rising from the shadows: like a figure from myth, the great patriarch of the Wildes, Fellow of the Royal Society, recipient of the Copley Medal and the Bakerian lectureship, the man whose learning had kindled his son’s mind and never burned down, the man who had drawn us north through icefield and hazard, against what odds, oh, that man, whose very treatise on the icy nature of comets once left the Sorbonne in chaos, whose learning could be expressed in twelve languages, who admired the jokes of the Tartars and the salads of the Inca, who had instructed his three-year-old son to scoop when his hand held a knife and to cut when it held a spoon, for no person ought to assume a tool’s use is determined by the tool, the man of a thousand lifetimes, who had set his heavy English leather boots on the soil of five continents, and collected the mud from each—I saw him, and I kneeled dripping in the low entrance, staring. For he was short, fat, and under his scraggly whiskers was a face very much alive and quite brutally ugly."

And at times there is a bit too much reliance on coincident meetings and discoveries. Indeed as another character observes:

"“You are like an interruption in a novel, Wash. The agent that sets things off course. Like a gunshot. Or a wedding.”

“I do not read novels.”

“Do not let my endorsement dissuade you . They are not all as I describe.”"

(but this novel is)

The novel, even in its title is something of a pastiche of the 19th century adventure novel and also has a strong steampunk flavour. Except there is actually no science-fiction involved but rather the actual scientific developments of the early to mid 1800s. For example, later in the novel Wash researches, designs and builds the world's first aquarium in Regent's Park, working with the (ficticious) marine zoologist HM Goff.

“Imagine a large hall, a gallery, but filled not with benches. There are instead large tanks holding all manner of aquatic life. Enormous tanks. Perhaps there are open-air terrariums with toads and turtles and lizards. And people could come and press their faces right against the glass. Learn the habits of the animals first-hand. It could be permanent, like an indoor park.”

Although Wash is the main inspiration, Goff is 'forced' to take all the credit. Wash ponders:

"My name, I understood, would never be known in the history of the place. It would be Goff, not a slight, disfigured black man, who would forever be celebrated as the father of Ocean House. When I allowed myself to truly think of it, a tightness rose behind my eyes. Goff was not a bad man—he did not like to take credit for my discoveries in principle, but I understood he was getting older, and that the desire to make a late sensation burned deep in him. And I understood too the greater conundrum—for how could I, a Negro eighteen years old, with no formal scientific training, approach the committee on my own, or even be seen as an equal in the enterprise?"

The real historic inventor of the aquarium was Philip Henry Gosse, who in 1853 indeed built it at Regent's Park. In the novel Gosse reappears in aspects of both Titch and Goff and I believe that the author must have taken inspiration for the character of Wash from Samuel Johnson, Gosse's local assistant for the 18 months he spent, on a different project, in Jamaica, in 1845-6. From Gosse's The Birds of Jamaica:

"I may be permitted here to record a tribute of affection to this faithful servant, Samuel Campbell, a negro lad of about eighteen with only the rudiments of education, he soon proved himself a most useful assistant by his faithfulness, his tact in learning, and then his skill in practising the art of preparing natural subjects, his patience in pursuing animals, his powers of observation of facts, and the truthfulness with which he reported them, as well as by the accuracy of his memory with respect to species. Often and often, when a thing has appeared to me new, I have appealed to Sam, who on a moment's examination would reply, 'No, we took this in such a' place, or on such a day,' and I invariably found on my return home that his memory was correct. I never knew him in the slightest degree attempt to embellish a fact, or report more than he had actually seen.

He remained with me all the time I was on the island, and was of great service to me. Many of the subjects of his work were obtained by him, when I was not myself with him, and some which I believe to be unique."

It must be said that Samuel Johnson stayed in Jamaica when Gosse left, that Gosse credited him in his work (albeit one could argue slightly condescedingly) and there is, as far as I know, absolutely no suggestion that Gosse's aquarium had anything to do with Johnson. But then the power of Edugyan's novel is to ask us how we actually know this to be true - scientific papers like history are written by those who had the power.

And indeed as Wash comes to reflect on his relationship with Titch he comes to question Titch's motivation. And when they meet again he plays back to him something Titch had stressed when they worked together, one that has echoes from the words of Gosse above:

"“You told me once, when I was drawing, ‘Be faithful to what you see, and not what you are supposed to see.’”

“Did I say that?” Titch seemed genuinely surprised.

“You did. And yet it always did seem to me that you never lived by it yourself.” He paused. “What do you mean?”

“You did not see me— you did not look at me, and see me. You wanted to, but you didn’t, you failed. You saw, in the end, what every other white saw when he looked at me."
“You took me on because I was helpful in your political cause. Because I could aid in your experiments. Beyond that I was of no use to you, and so you abandoned me.” I struggled to get my breath. “I was nothing to you. You never saw me as equal. You were more concerned that slavery should be a moral stain upon white men than by the actual damage it wreaks on black men.”"

Overall: an enjoyable and straightforward read (some harrowing scenes not withstanding) and with some important messages about historical attribution of scientific discoveries and of the motivations of even well-meaning abolitonists which are also of contemporary relevance.

But to me, and in pure literary terms, rather too straightforward to be Booker shortlist material. This is the sort of novel that would (geographical eligibility aside) instead be perfect Costa material. 3 stars as, by strict Man Booker standards, I was little disappointed.

However in a very poor year for the Booker perhaps worth its place on the shortlist.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,107 reviews532 followers
November 23, 2019
This lyrically written novel is half horror story, half adventure yarn. The descriptions of abuse, torture and outright murder of the slaves on the Barbados sugar plantation that was home to young Washington Black gave me nightmares. My heart was sickened by the description of other human as being just like so much furniture, easily broken and disposed of. Just despicable.
Erasmus Wilde was a sadistic man, and we learn at the end of the story that this was a lifelong attribute. Poor Christopher - his childhood was a nightmare because of Erasmus.
Washington Black is chosen to help Christopher with his flying machine because of his size and weight: he was excellent "ballast" for the small plane. But this would be his salvation.
Once Washington escapes the island, he goes on many adventures and becomes a botanist and naturalist.
I loved Tanna Goff and her devil-may-care ways. She defied labeling: she was "not a white woman" - as Washington Black described her, and neither was she a conventional woman, wearing men's trousers and taking Washington Black as her lover.
Esi Edugyan is a master storyteller. We read this book for my local library book club and we all agreed that this historical adventure was one of the best novels by a Canadian author. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Rebecca Roanhorse.
Author 55 books8,041 followers
August 2, 2021
4.5 stars. I actually read this one in 2 days but am only now getting to the review.

Perhaps because I am a Fantasy reader and writer, I found this book incredibly compelling. The writing style flows easily and the character's journey through life unspools in unexpected twists and turns. The story is an almost old-fashioned adventure with seeds in historical fiction but certainly influenced by tales of the fantastic. Some of the depictions of slavery are appropriately dark and brutal but the book doesn't dwell there and hope is never lost, even though it is strained. The characters themselves are complex and multi-layered, some frustratingly so, but isn't that the way of humans? (I see some reviews wanted moar slavery and moar stereotypes, which is ghoulish, frankly. Thanks to the author who has more imagination and love than that.) The ending is a bit of a bump, and I haven't decided how I feel about it, but I'm mulling it over. I prefer a cleaner ending, but the life told in these pages is anything but clean, so perhaps I can learn to live with it. My heart aches for Washington Black, long after I've finished reading. The sign of a good book.
Profile Image for Ace.
434 reviews22 followers
January 23, 2019
I tried very hard to like this novel, but after the Arctic visit, I started to lose interest in the story. Wash started to get on my nerves, and the number of coincidences that strung the story together was too much for me.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,819 reviews1,371 followers
December 13, 2022
Now shortlisted for the 2020 International Dublin Literary Award.

Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker which gives rise to a nice matched set of comparisons (additional ones now added below).

2017 Man Booker novel about an unresolved mystery and set in the English countryside: Reservoir 13. 2018 equivalent: Snap.

2017 Man Booker allegorical novel about slavery and institutionalised racism. Underground Railroad. 2018 equivalent: this book. (*)

Perhaps even more disappointingly this has made the shortlist whereas Underground Railroad did not.

Now I have to say that I found that my immediate reaction to this book was that it reminded me of the sort of adventure novel I would have read as a boy and was: something of a farrago of fact and fiction; a mash up of Jules Verne and Roots; a distinctly inferior version of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque trilogy without that author’s originality or prescience (Avatar, Bitcoin ...). I also found that it was riddled with inexplicable coincidences, repetition (the eyes most definitely have it), plot discrepancies and character inconsistencies which seemed to distract from its message and what I would expect from a Booker novel, but .....

it was then I recognized that my own values—the tenets I hold dear as an Englishman—they are not the only, nor the best, values in existence. I understood there were many ways of being in the world, that to privilege one rigid set of beliefs over another was to lose something. Everything is bizarre, and everything has value. Or if not value, at least merits investigation.

And others of my Goodreads friends have seen more merit in this book and done that investigation.

And then I read.

Some evenings I would take out my papers and leads and attempt to sketch the twins from memory, trying very hard to recall their differences so as to make them distinct. But at this I always failed. In life they were discrete as cane fields, each with his own character and history and way of talking. Yet when I sat down to draw them, they became one pale face, one beady, judging set of eyes.

And therefore it seems appropriate to take advantage of my own joint set of judging eyes and rather than provide my own review, refer you to one which I think does an outstanding job of setting it the background to, and investigating the value of, this novel.


(*) The argument of course cuts both ways

2017 Man Booker Novel novel exploring identity in a multi-racial North London and featuring popular music - Swing Time (with the dreaded Aimee) ;
2018 equivalent - In a Mad and Furious City (with its vibrant Grime backdrop)

.... and much as I liked the 2017 Elmet, Everything Under is a much superior debut novel exploring legend, isolated family units and gender fluidity in the English countryside.

...... 2017 Man Booker multi-narrator, multi-story with no editor at all. 2018 multi-narrator, multi-story book in need of a stronger editor (“I am sorry Rachel but the Unabomber would make a good New Yorker short story but it has to go from this book”) Mars Room. And I am pretty sure Kushner did not ask Romy to pick the publisher.

And some closer matches.

2017 Man Booker Irish stream of Consciousness novel - Solar Bones. 2018 equivalent - Milkman.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,112 followers
August 24, 2018
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan comes out in the USA on September 18, but I received an eARC from the publisher through Netgalley. And since it is on the Man Booker Prize longlist, I read it early! I can tell the Booker judges are up for an adventure story this year. This story of a child enslaved in Barbados who ends up traveling the world thanks to a scientist/explorer/adventurer, and discovers his own artistic talents. He travels all over where we can see the plight of former slaves in different areas.

It was interesting to see the reality, quote unquote, of some countries ending slavery before others, while the economy was still dependent on the work of unpaid enslaved people. Long-standing racism, long-standing grudges. Still... it has this layer of unreality to the prose that made me less engaged than I wanted to be.
Profile Image for Erik.
Author 61 books65.6k followers
July 10, 2019
Rich, charming, gruesome account of a slave's journey through the age of discovery. The prose is spare and seductive.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,488 reviews2,705 followers
August 7, 2018
This is certainly very readable but I'm not convinced that the various elements really come together. The brutalities of plantation life for black slaves have been more fully depicted elsewhere, not least in The Underground Railroad and the classic Beloved. The second half is more like a Victorian adventure: think Jules Verne here, with balloons, ship voyages, and scientific experiments to construct aquariums.

By the end, themes of freedom, homecoming and reparations emerge with concerns about the lingering effects of slavery and ownership. Wash finds his name and inventions being whitewashed out of history, and emerges into a maturity that looks back on his more innocent younger self with greater understanding. All the same, for me the more serious side of the book doesn't sit well with the romping adventures. This is the Booker contender, I'd suggest, for readers who want something page-turning without being 'heavy', told in a traditional narrative style, and with its identity politics well-cushioned in playful, globe-trotting adventure.

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley
Profile Image for Liz.
2,135 reviews2,746 followers
December 10, 2020
This is such an interesting story. Wash is a young slave boy in Barbados when he is taken under the wing of the plantation owner’s brother to help with his science experiments.
Edugyan does a fabulous job of painting time and place, whether it’s Barbados or the Arctic. We see the cavalier cruelty of the whites to the blacks, the fear that the slaves have for their personal safety. Titch is the exception when it comes to the whites, but even he displays a callous disregard for Wash once they reach the Arctic.
Wash is such a well defined character and we get to see him grow from boy to man, learning many lessons way too soon.
The main theme of the book is freedom, and skin color is no guarantee of having it. Titch is in many ways as trapped by circumstance as Wash. Edugyan also speaks eloquently of equality, whether it be a simple comment on an anti-slavery meeting separating out the blacks, Wash’s realization that Titch never truly saw him as an equal, despite protests to the contrary or the inability for Wash’s work to be recognized as his own.
This was a book club selection and I can hardly wait to discuss it.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,299 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.