The Book of Negroes
Africa, 1755. Aminata, age 11, is captured by slave traders and sold into slavery in South Carolina, where she suffers rape and other terrible abuses. She becomes a skilled midwife and is eventually re-sold to Solomon Lindo, who teaches her to read and write.
American agitation for independence is gathering strength, but it becomes obvious that their call for ‘freedom’ does not include slaves. Aminata escapes and finds herself on the British side, inscribing the names of freed slaves in The Book of Negroes (a real historical document containing the details of 3000 slaves). In return for their help in the war, they will be given land in Nova Scotia to start a free life. Tragedy ensues. Aminata loses her husband and her two children. She joins a group of freed slaves, sponsored by abolitionists in London, sailing to Sierra Leone to create a free colony. Even here they are not safe, being surrounded by rapacious slave dealers, and eventually Aminata travels to London to help the abolitionists’ campaign to get a bill through Parliament abolishing the slave trade in British territory.
This epic tale, spanning three continents and fifty years, won the 2008 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. Hill illuminates the horrors of the slave trade through concentrating on a small, often ignored, story: the plight of the Blacks who supported the British, believing that they would be helped to live free, independent lives. Every slave has a tale to tell of exploitation, double-dealing, betrayal and official incompetence. They are at the end of every queue, their opinions unsought and their aspirations ignored.
In this first person narrative, Aminata comes across as an archetype of the brave, intelligent Black woman, slightly detached from the events she so vividly describes. I found the book thought provoking and absorbing: a fascinating read.
Someone Knows My Name