The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

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The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This is the story of Aminata Diallo, born in Africa and sold into slavery when barely into her teens. This brave, gutsy, young woman travels thousands of miles over many years in her bid to return to her homeland.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Black Swan
ISBN: 978-0552775489

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Although this is a work of fiction, the whole distasteful and deeply upsetting subject of slavery is a fact, therefore, at times I felt as if I were reading a true account.

The narrative goes back and forth, starting with Aminata (or Meena as she is usually called) as a relatively old woman (what we would call middle-aged). She's in London, far from home, but she's there for an extremely important reason. The powers-that-be need her to tell her story, as a slave over many years. The hope is that other Meenas will not have to suffer the same fate. On a lighter note (and they are few and far between) Meena gets to visit some London schoolchildren. They think that she eats elephant. She is able to laugh at their naivety.

Meena's story is told unflinchingly in graphic detail. Along with hundreds, even thousands of others; men, women, young boys and young women like herself, she is made to endure horrors almost beyond the imagination. Think of hot, humid conditions and then think of near naked and also naked African people forced to walk, fettered in chains. Little food, little rest, having to 'do their business' on the spot. Little wonder many died or went mad.

This is gruelling reading for most of the novel. But it's also a compelling read for many reasons, but mainly because it is based on fact.

A large portion of the novel concentrates on the slave ships. That very phrase alone sent shivers through me. Hill's descriptions leave very little to the imagination. It is heart-rending stuff. I think it fair to say that these slaves are treated probably worse than animals. At least the animals were fed - if only for fattening purposes.

Meena survives, grows into adulthood. She, against all the odds, somehow manages to even snatch tiny shards of happiness, but they disappear like the setting sun - or do they? And all the time, Meena's fervent wish is to return to her tiny, African village. But does she get her wish?

She is also clever. She can read and write unlike most of her fellow slaves. She is singled out. Literacy is a most valuable commodity. Currency of a sort.

Hill gives us a poignant line when Meena wonders about her slave master. Did he own me when I slept. When I dreamed?

Imagine the most evil and cruel procedures - these slaves have to endure them, in silence. Talk about man's inhumanity to man. At times, this novel reminded me a little of those prisoners of war in the second world war. It all leaves a distinctly unpleasant taste in the mouth. It is not easy reading.

Hill's overall style is descriptive, even workman-like. He simply tells it as it is. No flowery, inappropriate language. Just plain and simple. And it works. There's not a great deal of dialogue and the reader is often presented with page after page of dense text. But if you are prepared to work through it, you will be rewarded by a compelling story of the stain of slavery. Read it and weep.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then you might also like to try Savage Lands by Clare Clark.

Buy The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill at

Buy The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill at


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