My colleagues gave me a Waterstones gift card as a leaving present when I left our department after having worked there for five years. I went to the bookshop confident that I would be able to stay within the limits of the gift card, despite past experience of just the opposite happening.
After about an hour of shopping, I was on my way to the till, confident in my choice of books and ready to make the purchase, when I came across this beautifully bound book that had been long listed for the Man Booker Prize this year. It had a picture of some kind of flying contraption on the cover, and a synopsis that would draw in any reader claiming to have a sense of adventure.
So of course I spent an extra 15 pounds on top of the gift card that I had already been given, but after finishing this incredible book I am of the opinion that it was absolutely, no-doubt-about-it money well spent.
Washington Black tells the story of a young boy who grew up as a slave on a plantation in Barbados. His fate changes when he meets scientist, inventor and abolitionist Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde, brother to the owner of the plantation. Titch takes him under his wing, which sets off a turn of events that will take Wash on an adventure beyond his wildest imaginings.
I have never heard of Esi Edugyan before but after reading this book I’m sure I will be looking out for more of her work in the future. There is something so effortless and melodic about her writing. She kept me so engrossed in Washington’s adventures – and misadventures – that I finished this book in A DAY.
The plotting was so seamless, and she managed to keep the narrative at an even pace despite the many twists and turns the story took. She took her time and allowed the story to unfold organically, and it paid off in the form of a book so well-rounded and – I don’t know – the best word I can used to describe it is FULL.
It is so full and rich in imagery that you will immediately feel yourself transported to wherever it is that Washington’s fate had brought him. You can feel the salty breeze of the West Indies, the icy climes of the Arctic, and – this last one I’m quite familiar with – the smoky, foggy air that is unique to the city of London.
Her characters also came alive under the expert strokes of her pen. It is very hard not to feel empathy for Washington Black. You never really think about how miraculous it is to be free to make your own choices until you realise that some people were born not having any choice at all.
I am not well-versed in the history of slavery or how it eventually came to be abolished, but all the same I am grateful to the men and women who made it all possible. I can’t even conceive of a world where my time is not my own, where personal freedom is only a nebulous concept. Its hard to believe that it was once the only way of life that people like Washington Black knew.
Despite all of that, you can’t help but cheer Wash on as he struggles to rise above his station, as he starts to come to terms with what being free means to him. It was an absolute gem to see his journey come full circle, as he realises that the world is his oyster – at least that’s the conclusion I drew from that incredibly ambiguous ending.
Freedom, Wash, is a word with different meanings to different people
He was supported by a cast of characters that were as colourful and diverse as they were complex. I like how Esi painted them in shades of grey, how she showed that even with the best of intentions, human beings get it wrong more often than they get it right. The best we can hope for is that we do a little bit of good and leave the world a better place than when we found it.
This is a beautiful tale of personal strength, friendship and love. It paints a beautiful picture of the ties that bind us to another human being, and that no amount of time or distance or separation will ever be able to severe those ties.
Apart from all that, it was just one hell of a great ride. I absolutely loved it.
Get your own copy from Waterstones now, you won’t regret it!