Book review: Washington Black — by Esi Edugyan

(Knopf Publishing Group)

We meet Washington “Wash” Black at a young age, an 11-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation around the year 1830. He is fortuitously called to serve as manservant to the plantation owner’s cousin, Christopher “Titch” Wild — inventor, eccentric, abolitionist — for the sole reason that he makes suitable ballast for the Cloud-Cutter, the balloon contraption that hastens their departure. Titch discovers Wash’s gift, and while nurturing this talent, he also teaches him to read and think for himself, a dangerous and challenging prospect in the world Wash has lived in until now. When an unexplained death taints the venture, Wash and Titch embark on a dangerous odyssey across the globe, a scientific exploration of magnificent proportions. The evocative language, remote and untamed wildernesses lend a distinct 19th-century feel to the novel, and it is as gripping as it is moving. Canadian Esi Edugyan, author of “The Second Life of Samuel Tyne” and “Half-Blood Blues,” has just won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s top literary prize, for the second time. As brilliant as “The Underground Railroad” and even more imaginative, “Washington Black” was also short-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year, and continues to receive critical acclaim.

— Reviewed by Jenny Lyons of The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury


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