Washington Black by Esi Edugan
(warning…just a wee bit of spoilers but there is SO MUCH MORE then what I’m about to tell you!)
The action of this novel takes us to drastically different locations all over the world: Barbados, Virginia, the Arctic, Nova Scotia, London, Amsterdam, Morocco. Our main character’s name is Washington Black. Washington is eleven years old and a slave living on a sugar plantation, ironically named “Faith”, in Barbados. Brutality and violence are a part of everyday life until one day he is summoned to the Great House to serve at the table of his Master Erasmus Wilde. There he meets Erasmus’s brother Christopher. Christopher (Titch) is a scientist, naturalist, inventor, adventurer and nothing like his brother. Titch is looking for a manservant and Washington seems to be exactly what he is looking for: smart, capable, and because of his size, able to fit into a “Cloud Cutter”.
Because of certain violent events Titch and Washington are forced to leave the island, and the only way they can do so without getting caught is by using the cloud cutter.
From Barbados, the duo makes their way to Virginia and eventually to the Arctic. Soon Washington finds his way to Nova Scotia where he meets a man and his daughter who become pivotal in helping shape Washington’s life. All the while Washington is haunted by the bounty that has been placed on his head, and the threat of being caught by slave catchers.
This is a story about adventure and self-discovery. It has the potential to be a strong piece for literary study in High School. As I was reading I kept thinking “ooh I could discuss the use of symbolism here”, and “note the vivid imagery there”. Its themes are deep and meaningful and accessible to most people.
Washington Black has been one of my favouite books of this year. It is academic without being intimidating and well worth a re-read in the future.