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Washington Black
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2018 Longlist [MBP] > Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

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Maxwell (welldonebooks) | 375 comments Mod
This thread is for discussion of Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Please be considerate of spoilers when posting your thoughts. Either use the spoiler tag or make it clear at the top of your comment that you will be posting specific details of the story.

Happy reading & discussing!


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Charlotte Jones (ramblingsofanelfpire) | 2 comments I have this one from NetGalley and absolutely loved Esi Edugyan's Half Blood Blues when I read it several years ago so this has definitely been bumped up my TBR!


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Eddie Clarke (hedgiecc) | 13 comments Looking forward to this one; the premise sounds very interesting


message 4: by Meike (last edited Jul 27, 2018 11:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Meike (meikereads) Okay, just finished my Netgalley ARC!

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.

Sure, the novel partly comes close to a fairy tale and the narrative skeleton that carries the protagonist's travels (from Barbados to the US, the Arctic, Canada, London, Amsterdam and Marocco) 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.

Here's my review.


Neil | 511 comments Just finished. I agree wholeheartedly with Meike's comment about readability. This is a straightforward adventure story but with some depth to it. Thoroughly enjoyable (as long as you can get past the stomach-churning first few pages).


Doug | 78 comments Neil wrote: "Just finished. I agree wholeheartedly with Meike's comment about readability. This is a straightforward adventure story but with some depth to it. Thoroughly enjoyable (as long as you can get past ..."

Thanks for the warning... I nearly bailed on 'Sing, Unburied, Sing' because I found the first 10 pages so off-putting...still not a huge fan of it, but glad I finished it and didn't let the opening deter me.


Meike (meikereads) Thank you, Neil! Doug, Neil is of course right re the first few pages: They are well done, but graphic! (I liked the whole book a lot more than Sing...)


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) I was fascinated by what I suspect must have inspired the story - the real life case of Philip Henry Gosse, who designed and built the world's first aquarium in Regents Park in 1853 (events paralleled in the novel but attributed to the fictional characters) and his local assistant, during the 18 months he spent in Jamaica, Samuel Campbell.

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.

(quotes from The Birds of Jamaica by PH Gosse)



Hugh (bodachliath) | 151 comments Purely in terms of entertainment, this was the most enjoyable of the seven I have read so far from this year's list, so I was largely able to forgive Edugyan her wilder flights of fancy. I am glad it was longlisted but don't really see it as a contender for the prize.

My review


message 10: by Britta (last edited Aug 08, 2018 08:32AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Britta Böhler | 314 comments Mod
An entertaining, easy read (despite the subject of the book).
Reading this book was a bit like eating cotton candy: fluffy and sweet but it leaves you with a slight stomach ache and a craving for some 'real' food.


Michael | 11 comments Hugh wrote: "Purely in terms of entertainment, this was the most enjoyable of the seven I have read so far from this year's list, so I was largely able to forgive Edugyan her wilder flights of fancy. I am glad ..."

Agreed. Straightforward story arc. Serious subject matter. Lost & found themes are all out front. I thought it was well constructed without being run of the mill. Reminded me of The North Water from a few years ago, with way less bodily fluids.


Barbara (bdegar) | 30 comments I am about 60% through (work and the Baseball playoffs are interfering with my reading time) and I am loving this. I saw Edugyan a few weeks ago and quite liked her. I was immediately pulled into the book which I started reading as I sat waiting for the event to start. I do like that historical events inspire her.


message 14: by Samuel (new)

Samuel (samueldaram) How confident are you in Esi Edugyan winning the 2018 Man Booker Prize?


Barbara (bdegar) | 30 comments Harold Bloom wrote: "How confident are you in Esi Edugyan winning the 2018 Man Booker Prize?"

I am almost finished and thoroughly enjoyed this book and her writing. But I sense that a more experimental book would be favored. I am holding out for Milkman winning.


message 16: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 151 comments I was trying to be positive in my first comment @9, but if Edugyan wanted this to be taken seriously, she should have made the story a little more plausible. Yes it is a readable adventure story, but as a literary novel it is the least convincing book on the shortlist...


message 17: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) It was interesting at the readings that she was keen to emphasise how much research had gone in to the book.

The issue is that while the science described (the hot air balloons, the invention of the aquarium, the polar research) is all plausible for the time - which means the 'steampunk' label this sometimes get is misleading - what isn't vaguely credible is that this would all happen to (indeed in the case of the aquarium, be invented by) one uneducated and very young character.


Charlott (halfjill) | 39 comments Hugh wrote: "I was trying to be positive in my first comment @9, but if Edugyan wanted this to be taken seriously, she should have made the story a little more plausible. Yes it is a readable adventure story, b..."

I felt the "implausibility" to be one of the points of the novel. The way Washington is allowed to flourish against all odds is the radical choice underlying the narrative, in so much that the novel derives its fantastical feel rather from Washington managing things which seem "out there" than from the elements which are sometimes deemed steampunk.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer What I found interesting at the reading was (if I recall correctly) the author saying that originally Washington was simply going to move to England (in line with the true story which inspired the novel) but that she felt she needed to allow the (rather fantastical) travel and scientific involvement to really explore her themes. I think had he have stayed in London the book would have had greater pure literary merit but been far less enjoyable.


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