Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

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message 1: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
Hello all!

Our May discussion book is the highly-touted Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This Canadians third novel has already won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize among others..

We are pleased to have group member, Ella, to lead our May discussion this month. Ella, I will yield the floor to you!


message 2: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments Hi Everyone!

I am your fearful leader, apparently. Be gentle, please - I've never done this before. We still have a couple of weeks before this one begins, but I'd be mighty grateful if anyone has any brilliant ideas on how to divide it up.

Who else has read this wonderful book? Thoughts on breaking it down into good chunks are most welcome!

See you in May!


message 3: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1232 comments Mod
Wow..here in DC all 55 copies are chked out and the reserve line is over 120 long..A very popular book. get your library request in soon.


message 4: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
Part 1 Faith Plantation, Barbados
Part 2 Adrift
Part 3 Nova Scotia


Ella, I see the third section, Nova Scotia, is by far the longest. The first two are rather short. Maybe consider that if you intend to break it up in parts. Possibly?

This is one book I’ve been anxious to get to since its release. Starting it today.


message 5: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments You're correct, Columbus, and a LOT of people (at least in GR reviews) seem to feel the book slows down and is not as wonderful as it gets closer to the end. (I feel differently, but I'll wait to discuss that.) It might be a good idea to at least break it into two sections. The first couple skip right along at a very fast pace.

I borrowed it from the library when I read it, but I have my own personal copy coming this week, so I'll look at the page numbers and figure some plan out.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I really liked this one a lot.


message 6: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
Ella wrote: "You're correct, Columbus, and a LOT of people (at least in GR reviews) seem to feel the book slows down and is not as wonderful as it gets closer to the end. (I feel differently, but I'll wait to d..."

Chompin’ at the bit...very, very enjoyable so far. Just what I expected.


message 7: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
....and it looks like the new paperback edition of WB is now out and they are using the UK hardcover for the US paperback. That cover is absolutely stunning!


message 8: by Karen Michele (new)

Karen Michele Burns (klibrary) | 220 comments I'm looking forward to the discussion. I've read it and thought it was excellent.


message 9: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
I finished Part 1 yesterday and really looking forward to the discussion.

Has anyone read Half Blood Blues by this author? If so, how’s the writing/story compared to Washington Black if you read it?


message 10: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2864 comments Mod
Columbus wrote: "....and it looks like the new paperback edition of WB is now out and they are using the UK hardcover for the US paperback. That cover is absolutely stunning!"

Yes, I too liked the UK cover better.
I thought the UK cover was a little more reflective of the story.


message 11: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2864 comments Mod
Columbus wrote: "I finished Part 1 yesterday and really looking forward to the discussion.

Has anyone read Half Blood Blues by this author? If so, how’s the writing/story compared to Washington Bla..."


I have read both Half Blood Blues and Washington Black.

I have enjoyed both books.
Both books are historical fiction (different time periods).
While I found the writing style to be similar one storyline is more rooted in realism and the other storyline employed some magical realism elements.
I would say that there is overlap in some of the themes and I would say the author uses the same approach in addressing some of the issues presented in the books.

[Side note: When I read [book:Half Blood Blues|11076123] around the same time I also read a couple of other novels regarding Black jazz musicians and WWII]


message 12: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
Beverly wrote: "Columbus wrote: "I finished Part 1 yesterday and really looking forward to the discussion.

Has anyone read Half Blood Blues by this author? If so, how’s the writing/story compared ..."


Yes, I was a little surprised at the sort of fantastical elements in the book. We’ll talk more about that once the discussion starts.

...I hadn’t realized this is actually her third novel. The first was The Second Life of Samuel Tyne.


message 13: by Ella (last edited Apr 29, 2019 04:40AM) (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments A little information and some links about Washington Black before May begins:

Still racking up prizes, these are just a few that this book has so far:
Long, then shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (2018)
Scotiabank Giller Prize (2018) nice article here: https://www.ctvnews.ca/entertainment/...
Los Angeles Times Book Prize Fiction Nominee (2018)
PEN Open Book Award Longlist (2019),
Governor General's Literary Awards / Prix littéraires du Gouverneur général Nominee, Fiction (2018)
Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee for Fiction (2019) here: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org...
Walter Scott Prize Longlist (2019)
Selected as one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2018 ( link: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/bo... )

Reviews & such:

Here's a great review from Colm Tóibín in the NYTimes: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/17/bo...
If you like podcasts, here is the author Esi Edugyan speaking with the NYTImes books podcasts: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/bo...
Picked as one of Kirkus' best of 2018 (starred review here: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-re... )
Nice reviews from Library Journal (sadly behind a paywall) https://www.libraryjournal.com/?revie... and a strong review rating it General adult historical fiction, but also recommending it for YA audiences from Booklist: https://www.booklistonline.com/Washin...
Why this book belongs on the Man Booker Shortlist from The National: https://www.thenational.ae/arts-cultu...
"Washington Black" Reveals the Bonds of Both Cruelty and Compassion". The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...

And that's a lot, but I thought I'd share those links in case anyone wants more information. See you in the next post with a tentative schedule!


message 14: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments I'm working from my copy of Washington Black, a paperback from the UK - found here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4...

It's divided into four sections:

1: 1830, Faith Plantation, Barbados
2: 1832, Adrift
3: 1834, Nova Scotia
4: 1836, England

The first and last parts are the longest, but they are very equal in size. From having read it and read other people's reviews, I think it takes a bit longer to read the final two parts b/c they slow down from a straight adventure story into something more nuanced, so we can do a few things:

read it in 4 parts
read it in 2 parts
or read it in 3 parts, grouping parts 2-3 together (because together they are more or less the same-ish size as the first and last parts)

Any thoughts? I don't want to make it too choppy, since it's a fairly easy read, and it shouldn't be too hard to get through. If we shot for a part a week, we'd be able to talk about the whole book in the final week of May. If we do it in fewer parts, we'd have the last two weeks or so to discuss -- please do let me know your thoughts and/or if your books are divided differently from mine. Thanks!


message 15: by Lata (new)

Lata | 294 comments Ella, I like your idea of reading it in 4 parts.


message 16: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2864 comments Mod
Ella wrote: "A little information and some links about Washington Black before May begins:

Still racking up prizes, these are just a few that this book has so far:
Long, then shortlisted for t..."


Thanks for sharing the links.


message 17: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
Ella wrote: "I'm working from my copy of Washington Black, a paperback from the UK - found here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4...

It's divided into four sections:

1: 1830, Faith Plantation, Barbad..."


Ella, not sure how I missed Part 4. But, yes, the US edition is the same.


message 18: by Mo (new)

Mo | 6 comments Ella wrote: "A little information and some links about Washington Black before May begins:

Still racking up prizes, these are just a few that this book has so far:
Long, then shortlisted for t..."


Certainly not a "little information." I love it all. I will begin reading tonight. I can't wait to read and listen to comprehensive reviews; especially the podcasts.

Thanks for the curated materials.


message 19: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments OK, I think we'll just go part by part, since that makes sense. So...

Discussion open for part 1 - Faith Plantation, Barbados 1830


message 20: by TIFFANY (new)

TIFFANY ANDERSON (miss5elements) | 143 comments I'm about halfway through the audiobook & it's a gorgeous listen.


message 21: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
It just so happens i’m reading two slave narratives simultaneously: Washington Black and They Were Her Property: White Women and the Economy of American Slavery. I’ve only read Part 1 of Black and although it’s taken me til the latter part of this section to get a feel for Edugyan’s style, i’m now enjoying the book. Property on the other hand is non-fiction and more academic with roughly 90 pages of notes and index (about half the length of the actual text) but extremely fascinating. I thought it would be rather daunting and depressing reading the two together but it’s really not. Both rather compelling and poignant in their own way.


message 22: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
Part 1 ends with Mr. Phillips suicide (Christopher and Erasmus cousin). Right before this is when the story picked up for me. I must admit, I wasn’t that enamored with the technical descriptions of the thingamabob. That bored me senseless.


message 23: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments Interesting -- I had a hard time figuring out the machinations and couldn't get myself to just give up and live with not understanding. I made myself laugh because at some point I thought "I could try to build a mock-up" (which would never happen) and I just cracked up, then I got over the confusion and just read. I will say, dividing the book, as I reread, tends to take a bit of the magic away. So read ahead if you like everyone! Just don't "spoil" too much. (Though, honestly, this isn't a book that spoils too easily.)


message 24: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2864 comments Mod
Columbus wrote: "It just so happens i’m reading two slave narratives simultaneously: Washington Black and They Were Her Property: White Women and the Economy of American Slavery. I’v..."

Columbus -

I have done that several times in the past and it turns out a fiction book corresponds with a non-fiction book I am reading and each enhances the reading experience of the other.


message 25: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2864 comments Mod
What struck me in the first part is how much of the family/extended family in England relied on the income from the plantation without the income from the plantation they would not live they lifestyle and status they had.

I guess I knew this but this storyline really brought this point home.


message 26: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
Beverly wrote: "What struck me in the first part is how much of the family/extended family in England relied on the income from the plantation without the income from the plantation they would not live they lifest..."

The pecuniary interests of the female slave owners in They Were Her Property is what’s truly fascinating in this book, too. How these white women participated greatly in the slave market, profited from it through economic and social empowerment.

Black, however, is one of the few books that I've read where slavery is situated outside of the United States. I think The Book of Night Women being the other. Night Women and Jones, The Known World probably my two favorite fictions books on the subject.


message 27: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
What did you all make of Kit? Her plans to kill herself and Wash to be reincarnated in Africa? I thought many of the scenes with her were both funny and sad.

It’s still a gut-punch when I read the sheer cruelty and brutally in these books. Never become desensitized. But I guess that’s why it’s important that they are still written as such. That we never forget and that it’s written as if a person is reading about it for the very first time.


message 28: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
Sorry about posting so much but these thoughts are coming right when I’m about to start Part 2. Isn’t it great to have books around when some form of chaos is going on all around you. Ok, I digress.

Erasmus, Kit, Mr. Phillips, Wash, Christopher. Full-fledged characters,all. Well written. Kudos to the author.


message 29: by Janet (new)

Janet | 224 comments Beverly wrote: "What struck me in the first part is how much of the family/extended family in England relied on the income from the plantation without the income from the plantation they would not live they lifest..."

thank you for this, Beverly - not sure I'd ever thought about specific and individual families' gains from plantations. but of course. about a third of the way through; really glad we're reading this.


message 30: by Ella (last edited May 05, 2019 08:25AM) (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments In the last few years, my reading has done a better job than any class could do in connecting a bunch of points about Black (American in particular) life. I can no longer read about one set of circumstances without seeing a whole history and a big web around those circumstances. I think Washington Black does this beautifully in many instances, and the culpability of people in other places than the US is one that looms large in this book. Thanks for stating it so succinctly and clearly, Beverly!

Looking forward to the next part, try thinking about modern day white liberalism (or even less modern white liberalism) when reading about the characters that seem less monstrous. Happy reading everyone.


message 31: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1232 comments Mod
I just started the novel and I'm impressed by how the author both subtlety and suddenly works act of raw and visceral violence into the otherwise peaceful scenes. Eramus suddenly without provocation breaks and bloodies Kit's nose with his dinner plate. The overseer brings a dead body to mutilate in front of the unsuspecting slaves to keep them from killing themselves. The author successfully conveys a sense of unrelenting dread that at any moment ones life could be snatched away without warning.


message 32: by Mistinguette (new)

Mistinguette | 3 comments Hello friends, I'm a LFbyPoC group member returning after a long absence. So glad you are still here! I just got Washington Black today, so I'll chime in soon, when I've finished reading. I've skipped all the spoilers, above :-)


message 33: by LALa (last edited May 08, 2019 04:55PM) (new)

LALa  | 9 comments I put in my hold request last month, I'm still #23 in line 😩, but I was like 60 or 70 something before, so it's going somewhat quickly. Will see how it pans out!

Update: I moved up to #20 now, but I explored a new feature my library has with some eXpress titles for ebooks, so if I can figure out how to get that all going, I'll see about reading at least some portion of the book before my hold comes in 😊


message 34: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments Argh - we should maybe have waited a month between picking this one and reading it. But it's impressive that there are still so many people reading it since it was published last year. I've had a much easier time getting much newer books than this one at the library. I'm really pleased for Esi Edugyan -- even with all the awards and stuff, it seems like readers are the best part. (Then again, I can barely write a grocery list, so I dunno.)


message 35: by Sandra (new)

Sandra The Old Woman in a Van (theoldwomaninavan) | 4 comments I thoroughly enjoyed the fantastical elements in the book. I am not a fan of magical realism so I was a bit worried the book would go in that direction, but it was very grounded in the fantastical, not magical. All the intertwining parent/child themes made for a compelling exploration of this topic - and led to much reflection by this reader. I also found it interesting how many variations of suicide there were - real, planned, feigned, imagined - with so many different motivations. Also left much to ponder. I gave the book 4 stars - really liked it, but not quite a 5 star for me. I was a little dissatisfied with the last section and conclusion. Not entirely sure why, but it seemed to meander a bit at the end.


message 36: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments Trying to wait for everyone who wants to read to join in, and I've had messages from a couple people who haven't gotten their library books yet. So feel free to read on (pretty sure y'all will anyway) but officially, I'm going to hold off on parts 2-4 until tomorrow or the weekend, unless that upsets anyone?


message 37: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2864 comments Mod
Columbus wrote: "What did you all make of Kit? Her plans to kill herself and Wash to be reincarnated in Africa? I thought many of the scenes with her were both funny and sad.

It’s still a gut-punch when I read th..."


Since as a slave Kit has no freedom over any part of life and the violence/cruelty that she is subjected to - killing herself is a choice she makes which can be seen as a freedom that has not been taken away from her.

Also speaking of killing herself and Wash and being reincarnated gives them hope - that this life that they know will end.


message 38: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2864 comments Mod
William wrote: "I just started the novel and I'm impressed by how the author both subtlety and suddenly works act of raw and visceral violence into the otherwise peaceful scenes. Eramus suddenly without provocatio..."

I agree - the author did a great job of showing the randomness of the violence and the use of violence/cruelty to create fear in the slaves.

Also besides in the Caribbean the owners thought it better to get the do what was necessary to get the most work out of the slave with the understanding that it was cheaper to replace a slave worked to death and was not interested in doing anything to prolong the slaves lives.


message 39: by Carmel (new)

Carmel Hanes | 51 comments I read this book a while back, but still remember it pretty well, because there was discussion of it in another group. I found the first section very riveting and well done. It does a wonderful job of bringing us in for a close up view (and feel) of what life was like for those enslaved. William...could not agree more about those sudden bursts of violence, when you don't expect them. That, paired with Wash's constant vigilance and fear made the read pretty compelling.

Columbus...those "gut punches"....yes, always feels that way. Never gets easy to see senseless mistreatment, and there has been so much of it.

Look forward to hearing all your thoughts about this one.


message 40: by Ann-marie (new)

Ann-marie | 3 comments I had sorta sworn off reading books from the 19th century, about slavery and such for a while--too much violence, cruelty-- but then last year I started hearing about Esi Edugyan and reading about her new book Washington Black. I'm glad I decided to take a look. I thoroughly enjoyed it surprisingly in spite of the violence. It was the science, the discoveries, the travel, the inventions with a main black character from boyhood to manhood that captured me. Now I'm going to read her previous novel to see what else I missed.


message 41: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments I'm going to go ahead and open up discussion through the second part of the novel -- have at it!


message 42: by Carissa (new)

Carissa McCray | 26 comments Columbus wrote: "What did you all make of Kit? Her plans to kill herself and Wash to be reincarnated in Africa? I thought many of the scenes with her were both funny and sad.

It’s still a gut-punch when I read th..."


Thus far, I just finished reading Part 1, Kit is my favorite character. Her strength and compassion stand out in this story because the other characters seem to think of their own interest only.

It saddened me in chapter 10 when I could sense who Wash was describing as the old woman with the boy. She was Kit and he did not recognize her. This also speaks to the hatred and dislike from the other slaves. Wash seems to understand his role as slave while distancing himself from the experience of his peers due to his freedom.


message 43: by Carissa (new)

Carissa McCray | 26 comments Thus far, I just finished reading Part 1, Kit is my favorite character. Her strength and compassion stand out in this story because the other characters seem to think of their own interest only.

It saddened me in chapter 10 when I could sense who Wash was describing as the old woman with the boy. She was Kit and he did not recognize her. This also speaks to the hatred and dislike from the other slaves. Wash seems to understand his role as slave while distancing himself from the experience of his peers due to his freedom.


message 44: by TIFFANY (new)

TIFFANY ANDERSON (miss5elements) | 143 comments Kit & Wash are my favorite characters in this book. I thought the idea that the enslaved told themselves not to love too hard was solely an American one, but I can see it being played out here even though it's not said. The differences between American & Caribbean slavery are interesting to note & see how they've manifested in the present day.


message 45: by William (last edited May 16, 2019 09:24AM) (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1232 comments Mod
I got the notice that it's time to send my book back to the library..there is so much going on in it that perhaps I'll renew it just to keep up with the discussion. I must admit that the first part in Barbados was the best part for me. Once he left the island, even though the manner in which he left can only be called outrageous, some parts of the story slowed and became less about Black and more about his tormentors/saviors. Although the sea voyage up to Canada would seem ripe for adventure my memory of it is that it was rather uneventful and full of decent and kind sailors, captains and (doctors?) not the savage pirates said to roam during that time in the Caribbean.


message 46: by Carmel (new)

Carmel Hanes | 51 comments William wrote: "I got the notice that it's time to send my book back to the library..there is so much going on in it that perhaps I'll renew it just to keep up with the discussion. I must admit that the first part..."

That first part was my own favorite, as well, William. I agree the following section seemed to lose steam a bit, and I wasn't entirely sure what we were supposed to make of it.


message 47: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments See, I think I read this differently. I didn't think it was so much losing steam as Wash had learned that he had some options and was making choices for himself (whereas early in the book he doesn't realize he could ever have agency.) I thought the pace slowed down on purpose - to show Wash being more deliberate, making his own choices and coming into his own as a person with options. Maybe I'm nuts, but I thought it was purposeful on the author's part.


message 48: by Mistinguette (new)

Mistinguette | 3 comments I'm really struck by the mid- to late-19th century as a time of great technological innovation, which was the result of leisure funded by unfree labor. Somehow I had never made that connection before this novel-- that the European Enlightenment itself, including its ruminations on the nature of sovereignty and freedom -- are all products of the extraction of enslaved African labor.


message 49: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 219 comments Mistinguette wrote: "I'm really struck by the mid- to late-19th century as a time of great technological innovation, which was the result of leisure funded by unfree labor. Somehow I had never made that connection befo..."

What a great observation. I'd not ever thought about that until I read your comment earlier, and I've been seriously contemplating this for hours how. Terrific point, and isn't it interesting all we see through this one book?


message 50: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1232 comments Mod
Ella wrote: "See, I think I read this differently. I didn't think it was so much losing steam as Wash had learned that he had some options and was making choices for himself (whereas early in the book he doesn'..."

There is no contradiction there. I as a reader felt the pace of the novel slowed. And the author probably deliberately wrote at a slower pace to make the points that you describe.


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