Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reader's Diary #548- Lawrence Hill: The Book of Negroes

In Canada you'd be hard-pressed to find a copy of Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes that isn't completely covered in its accolades: Winner of the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, Longlisted for the Giller Prize, Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2008, CBC Canada Reads winner, #1 bestseller...

Yes, it's huge here in Canada. In the US it's called Someone Knows My Name.

I won my book from Joanna earlier this year and finally I had the chance to see what all the hype was about. Was it deserved?

Of course, I'm not egotistical enough to really decide that, but I did enjoy the book.

The Book of Negroes is a historical novel about Aminata Diallo, an eleven year old girl stolen from her West African village to work as a slave in South Carolina. From there she travels to New York, to Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone and eventually England.

I liked the epic feel, the easy but intelligent language, the settings (though I wanted more Nova Scotia), endearing protagonist, and as historical novels go, I thought Hill struck a good balance between entertaining and informational. I had beefs with a couple coincidences, or plot conveniences, that distracted from the plausibility of the story. The first comes when Aminata is about to set sail to Nova Scotia from New York. However, her original owner from South Carolina shows up and declares her to be still his property, meaning she is not free to leave. But! Her 2nd owner, also from South Carolina, just happens to be in New York as well, and he shows a bill of sale, and says that he is okay with her leaving. With freeways and jets and the like, all this back and forth across the Eastern seaboard-- and with perfect precision!-- might be more believable today, but I didn't buy it in Hill's book. And that was nothing compared to the ending, which, out of respect of those of you who still plan to read it, I'll not spoil. Suffice to say, there's far too much manipulation with probability at the end, all for the sake of a convenient ending. Was it not for how much I enjoyed the bulk of the novel, it just may have done me in.

Blurb? Hmmm. How about "Time well spent"? That's fresh and original, isn't it?


Wanda said...

Well, so long as it was time well spent I guess I will eventually get around to reading this one. I wanted to read it when it first came out but the waiting list was soooo long at the library. Then it started winning all those awards and every copy got slapped with one of those dreadful 7-day loan stickers, I lost interest.

gypsysmom said...

I enjoyed this book when I read it last year. Epic is a good description of it. I too would have liked more Nova Scotia but the Sierra Leone segment was great. Wanda, do get your hands on a copy. I don't think you'll regret it.

Teddy Rose said...

Great review John! I hope to get to this one in 2010. Now that Bill has read it, he is trying to get me to read it. I'm just trying to get through some ARCs.

Eric P said...

Only 5 years later, and I've finally gotten around to this novel. On the whole I did enjoy it, though it does strain credulity at several places. I would say that I found the second plot twist marginally more plausible than Lindo showing up in the nick of time (and he happened to be traveling with her bill of sale -- what are the odds of that). Aminata would have been quite a curiosity in London and people would have been able to track her down fairly easily by that point.