This book has been on my bookshelf since December 2019 when my mom, sister, and I started doing our own version of Jolabokaflod. I’ve been meaning to read it but it took two short vacations for me to make time to actually dive into the life of George Washington Black, a young slave living on a plantation in Barbados. Esi Edugyan’s novel is brutal and hauntingly written and totally not what I expected.
The novel begins in the 1830’s where a 10-year-old George Washington Black, known as Wash, lives on a large plantation, looked after by a woman he knows only as “Big Kit.” His first master dies and when the man’s nephew, Erasmus Wilde, arrives a few days later, Wash knows that things have just gone from bad to worse. Actually, all the slaves know this. What follows are some rough passages of unspeakable cruelty that almost made me stop reading.
However, Wash’s situation improves somewhat when Wilde’s brother, Christopher or “Titch,” comes to the plantation, with a goal of building a flying balloon, improving on their father’s original designs. He needs a helper of a certain weight and Wash is recruited to be his assistant. This small decision changes the trajectory of Wash’s life—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Wash is treated less like a slave and more like a companion, and Titch nurtures Wash’s talent for drawing the natural world around him.
I don’t want to give too much away because some of the power of this novel is being surprised by how far Wash’s relationship with Titch takes him—hundreds, and then thousands, of miles from his Caribbean beginnings. Still, no matter how far Wash finds himself from his birthplace or from Titch, he cannot escape his past. Esi Edugyan explores how slavery’s chains are more than physical but also how one young man’s spirit fights back.
Cannonball Read 13 Bingo: SHELFIE*
*Having technical difficulties and can’t upload shelf photo (will include on social media).