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message 1: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Sep 30, 2010 05:09AM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Welcome to the discussion of Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.

What did you think of this novel?


Originally called The Book of Negroes, the title was changed to Someone Knows My Name. Which title do you think is better?

Looking forward to our discussion of this memorable book.


message 2: by Mocha Drop (new)

Mocha Drop (mochadrop) | 6 comments Personally I like the original title because it actually references a historical document. However, I can understand how (for marketing reasons) the term "negroes" might not appeal so some readers -- particularly African American readers. It's a somewhat antiquated term that's not necessarily the most positive to describe a race of people.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I'm sure the title was changed for marketing purposes. But I'm surprised that you think Negro has a negative connotation. It seems more respectful than almost anything else these days.

As to the book, I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. In the end, I found it hard to believe because too much happened to this one woman. The part about her husband finding her in New York was a bit far-fetched, but the finding by her daugher in London was totally beyond belief.

I was surprised that more emphasis wasn't put on the idea of Africans owning slaves. Yes, it was mentioned. But just sort of, in passing. That it still goes on today didn't get a whisper.


message 4: by Mocha Drop (new)

Mocha Drop (mochadrop) | 6 comments I really enjoyed the novel and wrote a detailed review for the original book several years ago. It took years, but I finally convinced my local club to read it as the February BOM (in honor of Black History Month); they loved it. We thought the book was well researched -- shedding light not only on the middle passage, but the complete ugly, inhumane cycle of the slave trade. Mina was an innocent victim (like soooo many) who lost and endured sooo much as a result of human greed. Sure we had some "what the heck was she thinking" moments...but we ignored those and kept in step with her journey. The history lessons were priceless and I found myself jotting notes and googling sites, events, people, etc. I was emotionally charged from the beginning and remember finishing it quickly.


message 5: by Mocha Drop (new)

Mocha Drop (mochadrop) | 6 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "I'm sure the title was changed for marketing purposes. But I'm surprised that you think Negro has a negative connotation. It seems more respectful than almost anything else these days.

As to the..."


Agreed -- the ending was a bit contrived with her reconnecting with loved ones -- but I thought the author was just throwing some semblance of happiness toward a character who'd endured so much loss and misery. It just reminded me that in reality the majority of those who went to their graves alone and never reconnected with parents, siblings, children. That fact haunted me more than Mina's "miraculous" reunions with her family.


Elizabeth (Alaska) What did you think about Daminata's acceptance of slavery in her home community? It seemed to me she thought that because she and her family were free Muslims, they had the right to own other people.


message 7: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Oct 01, 2010 02:29PM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) That was something that surprised me, the presence of the Muslim faith. I guess I never thought about it, never really thinking that Africans of long ago could be Muslims. I did prefer Someone Knows My Name as the title because having her name and those of the other slaves was extremely important to Aminata Diallo. Every time, she makes very certain that people know it (and refuses the name Mary) and is quite pleased when others call her by her name.

So, do you think a name is that important? Does it really make you who you are. Aminata thinks it is. Are there certain names that bring connotations to them? Is it because of your good name that you are known?

Possible Spoilers

I agree with what has been said and I felt the ending was a stretch when she meets up with her daughter. She was in so many places that it set my head spinning to think she was never able to really have roots until her time in England. I liked how it was based on some facts as historical fictions often are. It did remind me of Alex Haley's book Roots.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I did appreciate very much the amount of research that went into this. I assume both the branding and the meaning of the specific brand were historically accurate, though I haven't checked it. I liked learning about the scarcity of gold and the imprint of George III on Spanish coins.

I knew that without African assistance that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the English, and then the Americans, to engage in the slave trade. I think I didn't really stop to think about the extent of the duplicity. I did not know about the specific Book of Negroes, nor the settlements in Canada.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Yes, Elizabeth there was quite a bit of research that was involved.I love when an author does that.

I also found it interesting about King George's wife. I have not found any reference to her having been of African American descent.(but will keep on looking) George did suffer from mental illness which was referred to in the book. I love the historical smatterings of facts in this book. George and Sophia had 15 children (perhaps that was the reason for the mental illness!) :) Incidentally, they seemed to be very happy together although he only met her on their wedding day and he never took a mistress.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Another question(s)...Do you think that Aminata is able to survive the voyage because of her youth? or is it something else that drives her forward. How do you feel about the male author (Hill) writing about a female protagonist? Did he do a good job of writing from a woman's point of view?


message 11: by Tiffany (last edited Oct 05, 2010 01:30PM) (new)

Tiffany | 92 comments Because names are such an important theme in this book, I like the current title. There are so many heartbreaking examples in this book of how names are related to power (or lack of). Slave owners and traders who don't bother to learn anyone's name and use a generic name for all the men or all the women, the different sets of derogatory names Aminata is called in New York, Nova Scotia, and even when she returns to Africa. Aminata even wonders who she is at several points in this book and reflects on the different names, what they represent, and how they are or are not adequate to describe her.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I think that the lack of names was a way for the slave owners, overseers, etc. to dehumanize the people. I was ever so proud of Aminata's determination to retain that which was so important to her. The owners wanted all the slaves to forget who they were and taking away their names was a start down that path.

Did you like the book, Tiffany?


message 13: by Stacie (new)

Stacie | 32 comments One of the best books I have read this year. A couple of areas were a bit far-fetched but it didn't matter so much when compared with the overall value of the history lesson itself. Thank you for bringing it to the group. I am going to recommend it to my Temple book group.

I agree with both Tiffany and Marialyce on the use / non-use of names in this book. The initial burned branding on Aminata's chest proved their clear intention to treat the slaves as less than human, where names have no importance. The current title was completely necessary.

Did anyone else find it interesting that most women in the Book of Negroes are referred to as lusty wench?


Elizabeth (Alaska) Does everyone feel this is a white versus black slavery issue, or is it a condemnation of slavery as a whole? I feel sort of on the sidelines here as I didn't think this was such a great book.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I felt that it was a story of slavery and not a white/black slavery issue. I believe it to be a powerful tale of what slavery meant to this particular woman (and thus to those she met along the way) who was obviously intelligent enough to garnish much attention. How much more believable it was coming from a woman who not only could read and write, but who also spoke out about the injustices that were there.

I appreciated learning that it was not just the American planters who engaged in this heinous act and that slavery was around way before the Revolutionary War had even started.

I don't know if it is a great book, Elizabeth, but it is one I think that tells a powerful story and does not romanticize the idea of slavery (like Gone With the Wind does)


message 16: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Oct 06, 2010 02:08PM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) I guess I didn't see how Aminata ever realized that slavery was wrong, period, just that some slavery was wrong. But the hypocrisy is apparent. Do you think people today, those who own slaves, get that?

http://gvnet.com/humantrafficking/Sie...

http://gvnet.com/humantrafficking/Lib...

Sierra Leone is the country referenced in our book, Liberia is the country that was founded to return US slaves to Africa. I don't see they're getting very far and I don't understand it.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Human trafficking goes on every day even in our own country sad to say. I guess we like to think that because our country did away with slavery, all the rest of the world followed suit. Perhaps the illiteracy rate of many countries can be blamed for this total disregard of humanity. Of course, money is ultimately the driving force behind so many of the ills of our world.

As in the book, I think the author is trying to say that language skills equal power. I do so agree with him and think that Aminata's power of the word set her apart and made her become the person who was able to overcome adversity.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Did anyone else find it interesting that most women in the Book of Negroes are referred to as lusty wench?

I noticed that too, Stacie. I wondered if they meant that she was able to breed and therefore produce more children to be turned into slaves. Although the word "lusty" has a certain connotation don't you think? What did you think of it?


message 19: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany | 92 comments I really did like the book. I didn't have much of a problem with Amanita and May finding one another at the end of the story. Wealthy slave owners from London would have been a relatively small group of people. Even earlier in the book, you get the sense that all of these slave owners know each other even between the continents.

I have read many books about slavery, but most of them have focused on the American South or the emancipation era. What I liked about this book was reading about the journey of becoming a slave in Africa and the interwoven ties between America and Britain. I had never really read anything about slavery in Nova Scotia.

I found it heartbreaking that even when someone was deemed "free" he or she had no real freedom.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I felt the same way and really had not heard about slavery in Nova Scotia either. In fact, I didn't even think that slavery was in place so many years before the Revolutionary War.

I am glad you enjoyed the book, Tiffany. Freedom is something we all take for granted. It was ever so pathetic to see the word "free" really meant very little.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Marialyce wrote: "I felt the same way and really had not heard about slavery in Nova Scotia either. In fact, I didn't even think that slavery was in place so many years before the Revolutionary War. "


This is startling to me, but perhaps our education system is slipping worse than I thought. There were whites settling on this continent 150 years before the Revolution. How could there *not* have been all the social conventions during that time? Jefferson, Washington - most of the big names of that period were slave owners.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I did know that both Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, but I guess I was never aware or made myself aware of the extent to which slavery was a part of life in the Southern pre Revolutionary days.

I think it was my ignorance not the educational system to be blamed in this context. I was very well educated through my advanced Master's degrees by the Catholic school system here in NY. There are just some things you miss along the way.


Elizabeth (Alaska) In the very early days, there was slavery in the north, too. Additionally, perhaps you wouldn't call indentured servitude slavery, but I don't know how else to categorize it. Indentured servants were of all races, but mostly they were poor whites. They were often very ill-treated.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Did anyone think Aminata should feel differently about the advantages she had been given from her Jewish owners? I'm sorry, I don't have the book anymore and can't remember the name. Even after she learned the details of the sale of her son, she didn't relent. Yet she knew the circumstances of slavery, she was a very smart woman. Surely she knew that, in spite of everything, she and her son had been given a better life than might have been.


Elizabeth (Alaska) No argument about the desire to be free. That was always - and should have been always - a part of every slave goal. I was thinking about the hatred she maintained, deep unrelenting revulsion, because he had been part of the sale of her son. This man did all he could to make the best of an absolutely terrible situation, yet forgiveness wasn't within her. I didn't like her for that.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Exactly. I thought the author did a good job of showing the contrast between slave owners, given the limited space he had to do so. He was willing to show there was some kindness within the system, in spite of the system being rotten.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I wonder if freedom was always a part and parcel of every slave. I think that some (certainly not all) were content with their lot (or at least learned to be) They certainly saw no way to achieve their freedom and perhaps were too afraid to even attempt that goal.

I think Aminata blamed him so for the loss of her son. He was a ready target for that hatred. He was a man she came across a number of times in the novel. I think also she might have put a measure of trust into him and then finding out he had a part in selling her son was a betrayal not only of that trust but of Aminata's ability to judge a person.


message 28: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Oct 09, 2010 05:08AM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) What do you think the names of the chapters? "We Glide Over the Unburied, and "My Story Waits Like a Restful Beast", and" Words Swim Faster Then a Man Can Walk"

Are they prophetic, clever, and telling?


message 29: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany | 92 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Did anyone think Aminata should feel differently about the advantages she had been given from her Jewish owners? I'm sorry, I don't have the book anymore and can't remember the name. Even after she..."

I think this is part of what makes this book so complex. It really shows how much Aminita was torn between some of the comforts she was afforded and her desire to be free. Thank goodness many people did not just accept their circumstances and continued fighting for freedom, even when they had more advantages than others. If they had not, we would have a very different history to look back upon.


message 30: by Sharon A. (last edited Oct 12, 2010 02:03PM) (new)

Sharon A. (sharona826) | 172 comments I've been too busy lately to follow the discussion, but I loved this book. I don't remember that I've ever read a book that gave such a graphic depiction of the life of a slave from the time they're taken in Africa. Needless to say I was horrified, and it's amazing anyone survived.

I was actually glad Aminita found her daughter in England, otherwise it would've been just so incredibly sad. And I also agree that in London at that time, it wouldn't have been that unlikely. Especially considering the amount of press Aminita was receiving.

I also loved how the revised title fit in, how the slaves in the ship en route to America just wanted someone to know their real name. It really touched me to realize what a loss it was for the slaves to lose their given names.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Hi Sharon and Becky, I am glad you enjoyed the book. I, too, found it very enlightening about the concept of slavery seen through Aminita's eyes and experiences.

When they lost their names, they lost their identities don't you think?


message 32: by Adrienne (last edited Oct 13, 2010 09:42AM) (new)

Adrienne (adriennemarietheresa) | 175 comments Jumping in here, just finished this week. I was very disappointed with Aminata as well, Elizabeth, when she refused time and again to see that Solomon Lindo, the Jewish Indigo inspector, had done the best he could to provide for her. Yes he had caused the separation of her and her son, but he tried to make up for it in so many ways. She was a trifle more than spoiled, in this manner, throughout the book. Perhaps that characteristic made her more real to some. To me, it was a flaw in the characterization, as she fluctuates between benevolent and a tad unrealistic and selfish when it benefits the story.

I personally preferred the original title The Book of Negroes because of it being the main historical document that this book centers around.

Some of my favourite parts were at the beginning. Seeing through the eyes of a child of Africa what the ocean was like to her, to what she compared the birthing of a baby, the explanation of foreign objects that appeared again and again, each time a new puzzle for the reader to decipher. Oh yes, she's seeing a rifle and describing it best she can.

The historical elements were the second best treat for me. Everything that has been mentioned above and more. I knew that slavery existed before the American Revolution of course, but I feel like I have a much larger appreciation for the scope of slavery, its beginnings, where it moved and changed forms but still remained the same as in Nova Scotia and Freetown, how the world moved away from it and didn't, how justice oh so achingly slowly came to each of the worlds' people. We still have much work to do, but the gift in a piece of fiction that helps one understand the root of a problem is that it also gives hints towards a future solution. That's what I love about learning history and why I enjoyed this book, despite its failings.


message 33: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Oct 13, 2010 11:02AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Yes, Adrienne, I quite agree. Except that Lindo didn't cause the separation of Aminata from her son. The first slave owner was going to do it anyway and Lindo eased the way for the son. At least that's what I remember. At first Aminata thought it was Lindo, and I understand her hatred. But later she learned the truth and still never relented. That was just wrong.

I heard part of an interview on the radio the other day which included the information that an emancipation law in New York didn't pass until 1799, and then it was a gradual emancipation. We tend to think of slavery as a southern thing, but it was quite universal.


message 34: by Elena (new)

Elena | 129 comments I finished the book and really enjoyed it. What I liked most was the history. As others have said, I was not aware of the role of Nova Scotia, and had not much knowledge about the British role, and the African traffickers. It was really a history lesson for me.

I knew May was going to be looking for her mother and eventually find her. So even though the reunion was rushed at the end, I liked it.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) You are right, Elizabeth. Lindo was the facilitator, not the main currier of Aminata's son.

What amazed me was the ability of the human spirit to go on. I wonder if any of us would have carried on in the way Aminata did after the loss of her son, her daughter, her husband? Was this too hard to believe? Was this a story of "grace under pressure?"


Elizabeth (Alaska) This was the way of life. There wasn't any choice but to "go on." If you didn't, you got the lash, most probably, but at the very least it was a question if you don't work you don't eat.


message 37: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Wallace (lovelylici) | 15 comments Marialyce wrote: "That was something that surprised me, the presence of the Muslim faith. I guess I never thought about it, never really thinking that Africans of long ago could be Muslims. I did prefer Someone Know..."
Names are definitely important. My mother always says, "Your name is all you have." You are known by what people call you. This is why people get upset when they are called derogatory terms/names. To many people, a name is a definition; just of a person rather than a word. Even today, there are a lot of black people who are changing their names to African names, and dropping the use of last names as they are "slave names." In the West Indies, last names come from the name of the plantation ancestors worked on. For example, those whose ancestors worked on Connor's plantation carry the last name Connor. A name is packed with meaning and identity. Aminata knew herself as Aminata or Mina, and she wanted to maintain that. Her name was really all she had left of herself, aside from the physical. It makes sense that she would try to hold on to it.


message 38: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Wallace (lovelylici) | 15 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "No argument about the desire to be free. That was always - and should have been always - a part of every slave goal. I was thinking about the hatred she maintained, deep unrelenting revulsion, beca..."

I am certain that absolutely nothing can make up for separating a mother from her son. If someone took your child away and sent you off to Harvard University, it wouldn't make you any happier about it, and your gratefulness (if it even exists) would be far outweighed by that act of cruelty. I can't blame her for have hatred and resentment toward him.


message 39: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Wallace (lovelylici) | 15 comments Marialyce wrote: "I wonder if freedom was always a part and parcel of every slave. I think that some (certainly not all) were content with their lot (or at least learned to be) They certainly saw no way to achieve t..."

I don't think any of the slaves were content or satisfied. Fear was just greater than their willingness/ability to escape. It would have taken a lot for them to escape. A good deal of cooperation. Keep in mind that they were really not allowed to freely communicate, and it was difficult to even find others that spoke the same language, so a rebellion would have been very hard to plan.


message 40: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Wallace (lovelylici) | 15 comments This is definitely a favourite of mine. I read it earlier this year, and plan to read it again in the next few months. I really liked the main character, and I liked being a fly on the wall as she encounter different people, and reading her mind, seeing her thoughts on various situations and people. It does end in a fairy tale sort of fashion, but I'm ok with that. The book, to me, is a great balance of fact and fiction, and being realistic and fanciful. The bright points made the rest of it a little easier to swallow.

Sorry for the multiple replies. I would have had major trouble quoting people I responded to. :)


Elizabeth (Alaska) Interesting opinions about names. As women, at least here in the US, most of us change our names upon marriage. I have a couple of friends who married late in life and have retained their birth names. I also have friends who have changed to using their middle names rather than the first names they were known by for many years, or vice versa. One elderly friend, whose name incidentally was Elizabeth, was known throughout her 95 years as Hilda - very few of us knew her real name.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Alicia wrote: "Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "No argument about the desire to be free. That was always - and should have been always - a part of every slave goal. I was thinking about the hatred she maintained, deep ..."

But Lindo didn't do that. He actually saved him. She learned that late in life, but would not forgive him what she thought was his earlier transgression.


message 43: by Elena (new)

Elena | 129 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Interesting opinions about names. As women, at least here in the US, most of us change our names upon marriage. I have a couple of friends who married late in life and have retained their birth nam..."

A lot of insight about names, wow!
Even though I have been in the US since I was 2 years old and I am married to an American, I never changed my name. I always say: "How are people of my past are going to find me?". That is really the only reason, non of the feminist argument. Which now that we are be having this discussion about names, have got a lot of more meaning.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I so agree with you Alicia about the names and the slavery issue. Interestinly enough, I am reading Gone With the Wind and it does indeed romanticize the idea of slavery. It was and is a heinous thing and I think what Hill showed us was the icing on the cake so to speak. Aminata was treated "well" compared to what others went through.

Elena, I never thought about the idea of "finding someone", after a long period of time until I tried to reconnect with some high school friends. It was ever so difficult because in so many cases they had changed their last names when they married.


message 45: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Wallace (lovelylici) | 15 comments I don't think he saved him. Maybe he didn't initiate the sale, but he certainly assisted, and he had no intention of letting her know that. I think some of what he did for her was out of his own guilt, but in no way made up for his involvement.


message 46: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Wallace (lovelylici) | 15 comments Marialyce wrote: "I so agree with you Alicia about the names and the slavery issue. Interestinly enough, I am reading Gone With the Wind and it does indeed romanticize the idea of slavery. It was and is..."

It's insane that I've never read Gone With the Wind. My dad bought it for me when I was in high school, but I never read it, as excited as I was to get it. I think exams kept throwing me off. We have national exams in The Bahamas that are a pretty big deal.


message 47: by Adrienne (new)

Adrienne (adriennemarietheresa) | 175 comments copy that, alicia. :)


Kat (A Journey In Reading) (ajourneyinreading) | 390 comments I read this book on my Kindle earlier this year, loved it so much that I recently bought a hard copy of it.

As for the title... I can see both titles as being appropriate. The Book of Negroes because of the document... Someone Knows My Name... because like some have said someone finally acknowledged that the slaves had a name. Maybe it was changed due to derogatory connotations, maybe it was changed to attract more people to the book.

I really enjoyed this book. I have seen movies and read stories about Sierra Leone, Africa etc, but this one really made an impression on me.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Alicia wrote: "Marialyce wrote: "I so agree with you Alicia about the names and the slavery issue. Interestinly enough, I am reading Gone With the Wind and it does indeed romanticize the idea of slav..."

When you have time :) you should read it and see what you think, Alicia. Good Luck with those exams!


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Kat wrote: "I read this book on my Kindle earlier this year, loved it so much that I recently bought a hard copy of it.

As for the title... I can see both titles as being appropriate. The Book of Negroes ..."



Kat, I don't know if you ever saw Alex Haley's Roots, but that is one to really give you a perspective on slavery. I am glad you enjoyed the book. I know I did!


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