“Gripping . . . Astonishing . . . Washington Black’s presence in these pages is fierce and unsettling. His urge to live all he can is matched by his eloquence.”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

This book is a finalist for this years Mann Booker Prize. The story is about a young field slave in Barbados in the Antebellum years. George Washington Black, or Wash, is a short, bright field slave who comes to be noticed because of his small stature by Christopher Wilde, the brother of the plantation owner. Mr. Wilde, or Titch as he prefers to be called, is a man of science with a vivid imagination and lots of ideas. Currently he is working on an air ballon and Wash is just the right size to some into the basket with him when he attempts to launch.

Titch’s brother is a violent person, treating slaves as badly as we have heard about in any of our readings. Titch is surprised to learn how bright Wash is. He picks up reading quickly and has a great interest in nature and a terrific ability to draw beautiful and accurate renderings of anything he chooses to draw. This brings the two closer together and Titch treats Wash almost as an equal, not as a slave would be treated.

At some points news is delivered to the brothers by an old family friend that their father has died somewhere in the Arctic. Their mother wants Titch to run the plantation and the brother to return to England to run the family business. Titch has no desire to be a slave owner or to run a plantation. Things take a sudden turn when their is a death on the island which is observed by and reported by Wash who is soon suspected of murder. Titch and Wash go to their ballon, take off, and that is where our adventure really begins. Many things will befall the two unlikely travelers, including a trip to the Arctic where one of defining moments of Wash’s life will occur.

While the book is about the relationship between a slave and a former master, it is also all about Wash and his desire to know more about himself, to learn about his past, to continue to develop his credentials as an artist and a scientist, and to be accepted for who he is.

For this to happen, Wash will have to avoid a bounty hunter, find love, and continue a search for the thing that will end up missing in his life, something he can’t put away no matter how hard he tries. His search for that, and “home” will be the ultimate causes that will lead his life in so many directions.

This was a fascinating book by an author who has received accolades for her short amount of work. Her book Half Blood Blues, which I also have read, was a National Book Award nominee a few years ago. The author is another bright voice in the world of literature.

Highly recommended.

 

Reviewed by:

Richard Franco

Added 6th November 2018

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Richard Franco