Washington Black

Washington Black

A Novel

Book - 2019/04
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Winner of the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize

A dazzling, original novel of slavery and freedom, from the author of the international bestseller Half-Blood Blues

When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black - an eleven year-old field slave - is horrified to find himself chosen to live in the quarters of one of these men. But the man is not as Washington expects him to be. His new master is the eccentric Christopher Wilde - naturalist, explorer, inventor and abolitionist - whose obsession to perfect a winged flying machine disturbs all who know him. Washington is initiated into a world of wonder: a world where the night sea is set alight with fields of jellyfish, where a simple cloth canopy can propel a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning - and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.

But when a man is killed one fateful night, Washington is left to the mercy of his new masters. Christopher Wilde must choose between family ties and young Washington's life. What follows is a flight along the eastern coast of America, as the men attempt to elude the bounty that has been placed on Washington's head. Their journey opens them up to the extraordinary: to a dark encounter with a necropsicist, a scholar of the flesh; to a voyage aboard a vessel captained by a hunter of a different kind; to a glimpse through an unexpected portal into the Underground Railroad. This is a novel of fraught bonds and betrayal. What brings Wilde and Washington together ultimately tears them apart, leaving Washington to seek his true self in a world that denies his very existence.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy plains of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness of life. This inventive, electrifying novel asks, What is Freedom? And can a life salvaged from the ashes ever be made whole?

Publisher: Harper Collins Books 2019/04
ISBN: 9781443459587
Branch Call Number: ON ORDER


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Mar 13, 2020

This is an exceptional work of modern literature that I couldn’t put down. I felt a deep empathy for the protagonist Washington whose journey through slavery and beyond takes the reader on a voyage across land and seas towards self-actualization as an adult black man in a changing world.

Feb 07, 2020

This story about Washington Black starts when he is an eleven year old slave in a Barbados sugar cane plantation. Two brothers are the white owners, one kind, one sadistic & cruel. The kind one shows favour to Washington & eventually they both end up escaping the Island but that puts Washington being hunted & unsafe anywhere, he is also abandoned by the kind brother almost immediately.
There were no characters that were believable for me & no one had any appeal including Washington Black who was the narrator of the story.

Jan 18, 2020

The beginning of the story reminded me of a young adult novel I had read 10 years ago called, "Octavian Nothing" where a black child is educated by a white scientist. The story was interesting until the end of the Arctic expedition and then it became less interesting with a recital of events that happened next in the black teen's life. The narration is told in the first person from the perspective of the 18 year old black teen, but the "voice" seems much older - more like that of the author. The plot of this book also reminds me of the plots of "quest books" or fantasy books where the main character goes on a journey to seek a goal and along the way he is helped by a number of people. The book does shed another perspective behind the motives of anti-slavery organizations.

Dec 25, 2019

The writing, overall, is beautiful and evocative. But the plotting is random, and the characters, particularly the central character and narrator, are inconsistent and even contradictory. This makes it a difficult and demanding read.

Dec 13, 2019

Start on p. 59

Nov 29, 2019

For me, this is a story about a person, who was born into an incredibly inhumane environment, but through circumstance was able to escape.

Rather than graditude the protagonist became a "whiner" with an "axe to grind" , especially towards the person who helped him so much.

The last sentence of the book was perhaps a lesson in life but beyond that, for me, this book was a waste of time.

Oct 29, 2019

This book goes in a way I wasn't expecting, especially given that it stared off about slavery. It also does some sci-fi-ish stuff that I appreciated.

Oct 02, 2019

For obvious reasons, one can't help but think of Huck Finn when reading this novel. I would say the novel had all the markings of an adventure story via a fugitive tale and a family drama with a mystery folded in. There were some good twists and turns in the novel as adventure stories are prone, but there were also twists and turns of the heart and world view.

It was an interesting story overall with a great setup. It was also a really fast read. There were some important insights in the novel, though I'm not sure I can say they felt like they came directly from the characters more than the author. The author is a good writer, she knows how to tell a story. My main complaint is that I never really felt like most of characters had a distinctive voice. I don't mean to say the characters weren't distinctive. The characters were clearly defined. I just mean that none of them jumped off the page for me. Some of the situations seemed a bit forced too.

But overall, kudos to the author for tackling this tale. I very much liked art being part of the equation alongside science in the novel. Both are creative pursuits that help one see the world in a new way. Where the voice of the characters fell short for me, the locations and the art and science more than made up for it. The locations were starkly different and for the most part very well described. The locations were another character as they each left an indelible impression.

The novel starts out on a plantation in Barbados in 1820 and ends in Marrakesh mid-1830s. In between, it hits other places like the Arctic and England. The protagonist is a young boy when the story starts but history is narrated from the future when the protagonist is an adult.

Even though the tale was from the slave protagonists point of view, for the first part it had the strange feeling at times of being funneled through the white man's point of view. I thought early on that it might be because the protagonist was telling the story from the future, but after I finished the book I thought perhaps he was partly seeing himself through the white man's eyes as he remembered that time. It could have been interesting to tell it though the eyes of both.

About a third of the way into the novel, I quite liked the adventure of the story but I didn't feel like I heard the protagonists voice. I had a sense of him, I just couldn't hear his voice. Though I did feel for the protagonists plight. I was invested in his survival. About half way through the book, I still couldn't hear the protagonists voice but I could feel him more. This was the same for his traveling companion, the brother of the slaveholder.

As I progressed in the novel, I kept waiting for layers and depth of meaning to rise but for most of the novel it was very surface level with sporadic toe dipping into deeper realms. For the most part, the reader was expected to dive for it themselves or to bring their own depth to the table. Not that there weren't some really good insights throughout the book.

Betrayal seeps thick throughout this novel. Betrayal of others, betrayal of oneself. There was a beautiful passage when the protagonist mused about his current state being constructed around an absence. There was a brutal scene that really stays with the protagonist. It reminds him of how there is a thin thread between life and death, how some can stumble blamelessly onto the wrong side of it.

When I got toward the end, I felt like not every loose end needed to be tied up. But for the most part, it was about serving the larger story. There was a revelation toward the end that explained something, sort of, but it seemed a strange revelation.

The ending was poetic but not as much as it could have been. I understand what the author was going for but it fell a little flat. I think the project the protagonist was working on should have been a bigger part of the ending. Though there was merit to what the author tried to do.

STPL_JessH Sep 12, 2019

I love this book and consider it a masterpiece. It is both brutal and beautiful, cruel and careful. Edugyan's writing is so masterful and I was fortunate enough to experience it through Dion Graham's passionate narration. This is a quest narrative with multiple journeys, layers of meaning, and a great deal of nuance. I will definitely be rereading Washington Black in the future because I know it will continue to be compelling.

Sep 06, 2019

really intersting an engaging book, story. liked it alot. there are some ard to believ/explain things: how does a field sae with minimum reading capabilities, get to undrstand complicated mathmatical drawins and calculations? and how, des he who has not live by the water become something of an expert about marine zoologie? aside from these abit very fictitious aspects a great book, worth reading.

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Apr 06, 2019

Too brutal, too disturbing - not bedtime reading.

Sep 12, 2018

Born into slavery on Faith Plantation in Bardbados, George Washington Black has never known any other life. When his master dies, the slaves expect the estate to be broken up and sold off, but instead two brother arrive, nephews of the old owner. Erasmus Wilde proves to be a cruel man who drives his slaves harder than the old owner ever did. But his brother, Christopher “Titch” Wilde, is a man of science, and while the other slaves on Faith are doomed to a harder lot, Wash is selected to help Titch with his experiments, and his seemingly impossible dream to launch an airship called the Cloud Cutter. However, being selected as Titch’s assistant will come at a price Wash could never have expected, and their strange, uneven relationship will change the course of Wash’s life forever, for better and for worse.


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Sep 12, 2018

I carried that nail like a shard of darkness in my fist. I carried it like a secret, like a crack through which some impossible future might be glimpsed. I carried it like a key.

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