This isn’t a typical novel about slavery. It is a fictional portrayal of a real figure, Dido, the daughter of an African slave and of the nephew of Lord Mansfield.
The difference, however, is not there, but rather in the focus and themes of the novel. The brutality and violence of the horrendous institution of slavery are there in the background and mentioned from time to time as a potential fate lying in wait for those who are unlucky enough to be sold into these situations. Dido herself is considered fortunate; she is treated like one of the family, as by blood, she, in fact, is, albeit illegitimate and of mixed race. But it is not the same. “In whatever way they pretended, she was always on the outside.” She survived by always trying to please. She is at the mercy of the whims of others, expected to be grateful for what she has received and the alternative fate she has been saved from. It is still slavery, however, and this is something made very clear through the novel, especially through the revealing of the deception the family inflict upon her. Dido is freed when Mansfield dies and she becomes Elizabeth d’Aviniere, a wife and mother, but her worries are not over. Her sons are free, but will that stop the slave catchers? What is the piece of paper guaranteeing freedom worth if no one looks at it and instead only at the money to be made in the sale of human beings? The novel jumps around in time between the young Dido and the adult Elizabeth she becomes, which can be confusing, but it is worth persevering with. This is a thought-provoking and subtle novel, from an award-winning Trinidadian writer, which will not be easily forgotten.