Posted in Book review, books

Review Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Book of Negroes Lawrence Hill Black Swan Borrowed from the Library

Please note I will not be dealing with the controversies around this title.  If you want more info check out  Hill’s own book on the subject

The first thing to say about this work is that the writing is beautiful and has a sparse lyricism. The evocations of nature are incredible,  as the account of the storm on page 160 shows:

“The weather grew warmer and more humid…The heat reminded me of home, but the dampness weighed on me like a wet blanket. I felt the first of many rainstorms. Late in the afternoon puffy rain clouds started darkening. Long before the day was done the light suddenly changed as if evening had come instantly. Lightning cracked, the thunder grew louder and then the skies exploded” p.160-161

In contrast to the beauty of the writing, this book focuses on the injustice of slavery.  The acts of the Slave owners, including the sexual abuse of the main character and the theft of her child, make your blood boil. The conditions endured by the slaves, and the manner in which slaves are bought and sold, will sicken the reader.

This book deals with the inhumanity of slavery but also, highlights the; strength, resistance and humanity of the slave.  Hill explores the slaves’ attempts to live, and get around the harshness of slavery. Hill shows how the slaves grouped together to; mitigate the harshness of their current circumstances, keep hold of humanity and culture, and survive.  This resistance comes in many forms throughout the work; through the Fishnet they used to pass messages between slaves and former family members, the main character’s struggles to keep her Islamic faith and remember her family, the other slaves’ remembrance of tradition, their protection of each other, and Aminata’s determination to return home.

In addition, the voice of the main character has an intelligent, humane powerfulness.  Both of these main traits can be found in the brilliant first lines of the opening paragraph:

“I SEEM TO HAVE TROUBLE DYING. By all rights, I should not have lived this long. But I still can smell trouble riding on the wind.  Just as surely as I could tell you if it is a stew of chicken bones or pigs feet bubbling in the iron pot.”  p.13

This book is a mixture of gut wrenching injustice and day saving hope. It is full of depressing environments and enlightening characters. It speaks of barbarity in inspiring prose. It emphasises humanity in the face of inhumanity. You should read this book.