The Book of Negroes

by Lara Killian

8 June 2009

 

This week I’m in the final throes of Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes (2007). That’s the title you’ll find it under in Canada, at least. In the US the book was released as Someone Knows My Name. Someone may know your name, but that title tells us little about the book itself. I like the original better, referring as it does to an actual historical record of blacks who emigrated to Canada in the late 18th century.

Hill has won several major Canadian book awards for his story, which shines light on a forgotten piece of Canada’s past, during a time when Africa was an unknown continent and the people who were abducted and forced into the slave trade in the Americas had little hope of escape. Even Canada was unlikely to provide a refuge, despite the hope that people who escaped to the Maritimes clung to.

Harper Collins’ Canadian website notes:

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Lawrence Hill is a master at transforming the neglected corners of history into brilliant imaginings, as engaging and revealing as only the best historical fiction can be. A sweeping story that transports the reader from a tribal African village to a plantation in the southern United States, from the teeming Halifax docks to the manor houses of London, The Book of Negroes introduces one of the strongest female characters in recent Canadian fiction, one who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her sex.

This is a great story for those who appreciate reading of human triumph during some of the grimier periods in history. Hill spins a wonderful tale, inspired by the real life Book of Negroes.


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