Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black

Washington Black is an eleven-year-old field slave who knows no other life than the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born. 

When his master’s eccentric brother chooses him to be his manservant, Wash is terrified of the cruelties he is certain await him. But Christopher Wilde, or “Titch,” is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor, and abolitionist. 

He initiates Wash into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky; where two people, separated by an impossible divide, might begin to see each other as human; and where a boy born in chains can embrace a life of dignity and meaning. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Titch abandons everything to save him. 

What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic, where Wash, left on his own, must invent another new life, one which will propel him further across the globe. 

π π π π

Washington Black came highly recommend and it was the Scotiabank Giller Prize winner in 2018. You think that this would be a home run pick for our book club. Sadly, the novel wasn’t too well received by our book club and we didn’t see the love.

I really enjoyed part one of the novel, where we are introduced to Wash and his life on a sugar plantation in Barbados. He is hand picked by his master’s brother to be his assistant on his science experiments. I found this to be very interested and it reminded me of some of my favourite novels (Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd).

As the novel went on, I found myself to be less and less interested in what was happening with Wash. I don’t see how it was possible for a black man in the 1830s to travel to Alaska, Canada, England and Morocco as easily as he did and without question. The novel seemed to fall very easily in place since Wash was able to find everyone that he was looking for, even when he was travelling across the globe.

And then there was the ending. At book club, we just felt stupid (maybe we are stupid?!) because none of us could figure out the meaning of the end of the novel. Also by that point, I just didn’t care any more. I had enough of the novel and just wanted to finish it.

2 calculators out of a potential 5. I’m torn on my rating since I can’t seem to answer the simple question of if I liked the novel. I’m leaning more towards no and that the novel was just ok. 


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