Born in raised a devout Muslim in Bayo, 11-year-old Aminata Diallo knows only of the ways of her people and the love of her parents. N Plot Summary
Born in raised a devout Muslim in Bayo, 11-year-old Aminata Diallo knows only of the ways of her people and the love of her parents. Never dreaming she would see life beyond her village, that wish is answered in an unfortunate way; she is abducted into the slave trade. With both parents brutally murdered and her lonely West-African village burning behind her, Aminiata begins a long journey in chains across the ocean to America.
Based heavily on the history of the Black Loyalists, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes encapsulates the life of a slave and African-American in the 1700’s. Although devastated at the loss of her home, parents, and identity, Aminata learns to be resilient. From an indigo plantation in the South, to a teacher in New York, to a mid-wife in Nova Scotia, she uses her intelligence to fight against the constant stream of struggles. Her knowledge of midwifery, multiple languages, and the ability to read and write, give opportunities to restart life again and again. It is the constant hope of one day returning to her home village that drives her, in spite of the forced separation between her husband, children, and deceased parents. So, when given the opportunity to set-foot on her homeland, Aminata expects to return to the visions of her childhood; this is not the case. With the smothering of her long-held dream, she is forced to reassess her longings and come to terms with important realities. A repulsive, yet engrossing read, The Book of Negroes truly reminds one to count their blessings.
As of this year, my choice of required readings has leaned towards the depressing and heartbreaking plots; The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill can be categorized the same. Although a difficult read content wise, it was both captivating and interesting. It follows the difficult journey of Aminata Diallo, or “Meena” as she is nicknamed, across the globe. With constant changes in setting and a vast variety of characters, the plot never seems to lag. I myself finished the lengthy novel in a week! Through the eyes of this resilient and hope-filled woman, the reader truly experiences a taste of the horrors of slavery and racism.
One aspect that I really enjoyed was the historical content that underlined the story. Though Meena is a fictional character, both her experiences and the Book of Negroes are true. By reading this I was able to learn about the Black Loyalists in Canada; an important part of our history that is often overshadowed or forgotten. In addition to a historical plot, Hill also develops the character of Meena quite intricately, so that at times it felt like I was reading an autobiography. By creating her with realistic responses to situations, such as the constant mourning of her lost children, not only could I empathize with her hardships, but I myself felt part of the emotional journey. It is reading novels with characters such as this that remind me of importance of perseverance. The strength of her character and ability to keep hopeful in the darkest of circumstances has led Meena to be one of my favourite fictional characters.
While an enticing read, there were a few negative points about the novel. The amount of travel involved requires a constant change in setting and characters. While usually the author had great transition into these new locations, I often found it to break up the plot too much. For instance, some characters were quite involved in one area, but as the plot continued, they were never mentioned again. Sometimes it felt as if I began a new novel. I realize that by changing countries, it would be starting a new life with nothing familiar, but one would still reflect often on past events. As well, with the time span being over eighty years, the amount of detail for each “chapter” of Meena’s life is limited.
For those seeking a historical, enthralling, yet not-for-the-weak-of-heart read, I would recommend The Book of Negroes. The injustice will shock, but the characters will bring forth awe.
1)“But I have long loved the written word, and come to see in it the power of the sleeping lion. This is my name. This is who I am. This is how I got here. In the absence of an audience, I will write down my story so that it waits like a restful beast with lungs breathing and heart beating.”- Aminata
Frustrated with the futile works of the abolitionists, elderly Aminata brings up an additional way to advance the fight against slavery. To her, words are not simply scribbles on a page, but have the potential to be as powerful and dangerous as a lion. By writing her story and persecutions down, she will address both the mind and heart of her audience on this issue. Although sometimes viewed as cliché, words and story do contain much power. I think it serves as a good reminder for the way we use our words and their potential to maim or uplift.
2)“It doesn’t matter what we call your soul. What matters is where it travels and who it uplifts.”- Daddy Moses talking to Aminata
When Aminata moves to Nova Scotia, one of the first people that she befriends is a preacher, Daddy Moses. Having abandoned God years ago, she bluntly states that fact to him, in which he replies with this statement. I think many times we like to label people as “saved” or “unsaved”, “heathen” or “Christian”. Although on the surface many people claim these labels, it may not be evident in their actions. Along with belief, action should follow and other should be “uplifted”. I think it’s a really wise statement.
3)“[…:] words fly on the wild winds from the mouths of sly people. When the winds pick up, he said, sand blows into your ears and bites your eyes. Storms build overhead like a lake with a spout, but you can’t see or her. Only when you are safely sheltered […:] can you tell which way the wind is blowing. Only from the calm can you see how to protect yourself from trouble.” - Aminata reciting a quote said by her father
With heated arguments and a wide variety of opinions being thrown about by the abolitionists, Aminata remembers this quote in all the confusion. Sometimes amidst situations in life, it is hard to separate truth from lie and decisions can become overwhelming. It is only by stepping out and gaining a new perspective that some things can become clear; that what is true can be separated from what is false. I agree completely that it is important to pause in life and reflect, so as not to feel lost in all the activities in life.
4)“He repeated my name over and over, and then added, ‘I must hear you say it. Please. Say it. Say my name’ […:] ‘Someone knows my name. Seeing you makes me want to live.’” – Chekura on the boat
Taken from all that they had known and stripped of their identity, Aminata decided she would learn all the names of the captives on the ship. Little did she realize how impactful that was for people, such as her future husband Chekura. Being called by name acknowledges your existence outside yourself and affirms that someone cares. It was only when I first came to Fraser Valley in grade 9 that I felt the loneliness of being unknown; of no one knowing my name. Realizing this, I intern made a great effort to learn the names of everyone in my grade.
With a horrible childhood behind him, gentle Sydney Henderson seeks a better life in the world of education. Turned do**spoiler alert** Plot Summary
With a horrible childhood behind him, gentle Sydney Henderson seeks a better life in the world of education. Turned down before even having an interview, he realizes that those past events will mark him for the entirety of his life.
Told through the eyes of his son Lyle, Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards explores the hardships and persecutions of the Hendersons. In a town where land is past through generations, one man runs the show,and no one easily forgets, gossip and deceit can ruin lives. What starts out as one residents lust for Elly, the wife of Sydney, is soon blown into a court case against the Hendersons. Already in destitute living conditions, the family is ridiculed and tormented with no means to defend themselves and with no desire to hurt others in the process.Lyle witnesses the injustice done to his family, watching his father bear it all without so much as a mean comment. The lies and rumours are taxing though; Lyle's spirit is broken and innoncent lives are taken. To make matters worse, the Hendersons suddenly find themselves in huge debt from the government,forcing Sydney to leave town to find work. In order to protect his siblings and mother, Lyle's way of life soon becomes opposite of his fathers. A heartbreaking, but unique read, Mercy Among the Children explores the reslience of humans amidst unimaginable suffering.
I first have to say that this was one of the most difficult novels I have ever had to read through. It was not difficult in understanding, but in content. The sufferings that this family had to live through was devastating and the toll was high. Reading through it, I kept hoping for some glimpse of good fortune for the Hendersons, but the situation always became worse. Quite often I was left in disbelief at the injustice of it all. It definatly changed the perspective on my own life sufferings. It also made me realize just how damaging gossip can be, for all of it started with one assumption about Sydney's father.
Although the sadness of the plot may prevent me from ever reading this novel again, I thought it was very well written. Not only was the story unique, but the writing style was different and full of meaning and truth.(Probably every three chapters I found a great quote!)The majority of the novel was told from Lyle's perspective, but there were several different character developments that occured, which were narrated by others. Intertwining plots and narration kept the material interesting and added a whole dimension to the story.
One aspect that I didn't like was that other family members, such as Lyle's sister, never narrated. It would have been interesting to hear how they dealt with the hardships. There were also some points in the plot that were slightly unbelievable, such as the lawyer being Elly's sister.
The character of Lyle was very well developed and surprisingly believable. I found myself easily relating to his situation and understanding the actions he took even though I have never experienced anything similar. He went from being an innocent, respectful boy to a tormented and lost man; a very dynamic character. The whole process of his change in character lined up with events, making it realistic. By the end of the novel I felt as if I truly knew him.
I'm cautious of who I would recommend this too because it is quite depressing. For those who want a read to wrestle with, Mercy Among the Children is a great choice. It was captivating, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking all at the same time.
Collection of Favourite Quotes
1)"He had been innoncent enough to assume that the educated had excised all prejudice from themselves and would never delight in injury to others- that is, he believed that they had easily attained the goal he himself was struggling toward."-Lyle speaking about his father
This is said after Sydney, Lyle's dad, is made fun of by a proffesor for inquiring how to apply for the university. Many people believe that education is the solution for most of the worlds problems. This made me think how often we place people who are educated, even when lacking experience, in positions of power and leadership because we see a certificate. It is not just the knowledge that matters, but the character of the person as well.
2)"I know what is owed us and what has been paid, and I say to you, Lyle, that much is owed us and little has been paid. That is far better than the other way around. Have much owing you, instead of owing much!" - Sydney
After punching a teacher at school, Lyle later gets in an argument with his father about sticking up for himself. This is quite a profound statment, and one that is very hard to live up to.Revenge comes naturally to us and no one like injustice. To be able to endure the mocking and harships that Sydney did without having some sort of justice would be so incredible hard.I don't know if I could ever do that.
3)"More fool I to believe something I could not commit to and damn myself for my human weakness each and every day, when millions who mocked my belief never suffered a pang."- Lyle
Lyle ponders this while dwelling on his 'heartless' rebellion that occured after his father left. Once again, I think in the case of Lyle where suffering is all he experiences, having faith would be so difficult.I think it's easy to believe that by being a good person and living right, we'll end up with wealth and happiness, but that's not always the result. Many times people of the worst character and non-existent faith seem to experience no hardships.That would definatly cause me to question my faith.
4)"So what if that is true? That does not make me less true- it does not make your father less good, or his bravery less real. Nor does is make a mockery of Saint Therese of the child Jesus."- Lyle's mother
Lyle's mother states this when Lyle confronts her with the flaws of people who share the same faith (ie corrupt popes, cruel convents. He continually tries to test his parents faith, but they remain resiliant to all the sufferings and so see no reason to question it. To actually suffer like this and still have faith, it is no wonder Lyle wants to give up. His mother makes a good point, saying that really inspite of what others do in association with their faith, it doesn't mean their belief is untrue or wrong. Her continued faith is astounding....more
Blindness is a very unique and deeply layered book. It follows a group of people who have been interned in an abadoned mental assylum after contractinBlindness is a very unique and deeply layered book. It follows a group of people who have been interned in an abadoned mental assylum after contracting a 'white' blindness, which no one could cure. It places the characters in a setting of 'survival of the fittest', leading into discussions of human nature. Not only is the plot line different, but the writing style is unique as well. There were seldom paragraphs or periods, and no punctuated dialogue; most sentances and thoughts were seperated by just a comma. This made it difficult to read and understand at times. I did like this book, but found that there was almost too much philosophy, the plot lagged in some parts, and the creative writing style made it hader to follow dialogue. Even with the underlying tone of human evil, the book still holds value in the nuggets of truth it brings up. For those who are looking for a thought provoking and difficult read, in both content and comprehension, I would recommend this novel.
Favourite quotes of Blindness:
"I don't think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see."- The Doctor
"...just as well that we are still capable of weeping, tears are often our salvation, there are times when we would die if we did not weep..." -The Doctor's Wife
"...for dignity has no price, that when someone starts making small concessions, in the end, life loses all meaning." -Narrator