Someone Knows My Name / The Book of Negroes

negroesI’ve wanted to read The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill for a couple of years.  An important part of Canadian history, Black Loyalists, about which I know far too little.

I went into reading this book knowing that it would be sad a difficult to read.  The story of Aminata, a young girl growing up in Africa, who is abducted and sold into slavery.  Her story then goes through the plantations of South Carolina, the slums of New York and to Nova Scotia.

When I started to read the book I was under the impression that Aminata’s story would end happily in Nova Scotia.  Having grown up in Nova Scotia and having seen that the Black communities were generally located on the rockiest land that no one else would want.

It turns out that Aminata’s story doesn’t end in Nova Scotia.  After the government fails to meet it’s promises to the freed slaves, a well meaning Brit shows up with a crazy scheme to start a new colony on the coast of Africa, near where Aminata was originally sold.

This was a phenomenal book.  It was engaging and, at times, inspiring.  It was sad and overwhelming at other times.  How can humans treat other humans so badly.  Aminata triumphs over here circumstances with hard work, taking opportunities when they came (particularly to gain an education) and become a valuable part of each community she was a part of.  You’re always rooting for her, even when it looks like there is no way out of a crisis.

Hill has a really useful set of notes at the back describing which of the historical details that he manipulated for the sake of the plot.  He also gives extensive notes on his research.

I’m so glad I finally read this book, both because it was an outstanding book, and also because every North American should understand more of this part of our history.

(The dual blog post title is a nod the fact that the book has different titles north and south of the border.  In the US the book was published as Someone Knows My Name.  In Canada this book won many awards and was published as The Book of Negroes.)

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