The Book of Negroes

I purchased this book by Lawrence Hill in Canada while on vacation. It was prominently displayed in a chain bookstore, and I was quite surprised I had never heard of it. While this excellent book was published in Canada as The Book of Negroes, the politically correct U.S. publisher felt that an innocuous title, Someone Knows My Name, was better suited to the American audience.This is a pity. The title refers to an historical document, The Book of Negroes.  This book was an enumeration of the Black-British slave colonists who escaped to the British during  the Revolutionary War. Many of these people became settlers in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone.

This novel is written in the style of a memoir. It tells the story of Aminata Diallo. She was captured by slave traders in her native Africa at the age of eleven and forced to march three months through Africa to reach the Guinea Coast, a notorious port of exit for African slaves. She boarded a slave ship, and came to the American colonies in 1756. In Charleston, South Carolina, Aminata was sold to the owner of an indigo plantation.

Of course this book tells the familiar tale of personal indignities and privations suffered by the slaves at the hands of their American owners. But because it tells it from the perspective of a woman who, against all odds, learned to read and write and make her own escape to freedom, it is extremely powerful. Aminata had a gift for languages, and she was able to take advantage of all opportunities to learn. She was learned in midwifery and medical care, and was respected in every community in which she lived.

The Book of Negroes is a winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Overall Book. By whatever name, I’d suggest reading this important book.

In Canada:

Published in softcover Harper Collins 2007


Published as Someone Knows My Name

Hard cover-W.W. Norton 2007
Softcover edition-W.W. Norton 2008


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