The Book of Negroes (Review)

January 29, 2010

Book cover for "The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill.Title: The Book of Negroes

Author: Lawrence Hill

Publication Year: 2007

Pages: 504

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Listened to via the Between the Covers podcast

I was never really interested in listening to books on tape, but I wanted to be able to maximize my commute to work. The streetcar trip is just long enough to need something to do, and just short enough that I usually can’t read through a full chapter on the way, and I get all discombobulated.

So I was looking for e-books for my iPhone last week, figuring that I could at least find a way to bookmark it better, or that it would be more easily portable than an “actual” book. I ended up stumbling on a CBC podcast that splits up the books it covers into 15ish minute segments, and included some rather interesting titles! I’d heard lots of good things about The Book of Negroes, and have contemplated borrowing it from my library at school to read, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet, so I decided to select it as the first audio book that I would try out.

It did not disappoint.

The Book of Negroes is narrated by Aminata Diallo, who was stolen as an 11-year-old girl from her home in Africa, brought to the US on a slave ship, and is telling her story from her point of view as an old woman in London, England while the abolitionists are working to make the slave trade illegal (though not actual slavery).

In most ways, I absolutely loved this book. The story was engaging, the characters were loveable (or hate-able, as the case may be) in all the right ways, and I found myself cheering for Aminata and hoping that things would eventually work out for her. The only thing that really bothered me about the book was how it would jump over time periods as if they were nothing – suddenly it would be “six years later” (or even longer), and it would be as if nothing important at all happened in those periods.

I particularly loved the way that Aminata approached life through the novel, and how she presented her experiences – especially the negative ones – in a way that made you connect with her emotionally and want her to succeed. I think that part of this was actually the format that I “read” it in: because it was a podcast, the story was read to me by a female voice actor who used the accent and speech patterns that Aminata might have used. It really helped to draw you into the story, something that I wasn’t really expecting when I first decided to listen to The Book of Negroes in audio book format.

All in all, an absolutely fantastic book. I’m hoping that one day I’ll get to teach it in school, because I think there’s lots there for students to learn about. Plus, it brings in the Canadian angle of history, which is always good.



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