My book club’s chosen read for April was Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This is the third novel by Esi Edugyan which was published in 2018, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. With this in mind alongside the high praise I had seen for this book I was looking forward to becoming immersed in this story of a boy’s remarkable journey.
The novel begins in a Barbados sugar plantation in the 1930’s, and it is here we are introduced to an eleven –year-old boy named George Washington ‘Wash’ Black, who was born into slavery. In the early stages of this story, we get a glimpse at life as a slave through the eyes of a child, and the shocking ways in which people were treated, which made for some powerful imagery. However, life for Wash takes a very different turn when one of the two brothers in charge of the plantation chooses him to be a personal assistant. Known as ‘Titch’, Christopher Wilde is something of an eccentric character, an inventor with grand plans to build a balloon like aerial machine with which to embark on an ambitious adventure. And it is under the tutelage of Titch that Wash’s talents and passions are discovered and developed, and a bond develops between the two. However, despite the freedom gained through his time with Titch, who is an abolitionist, events transpire in which he finds himself in danger, and is forced to navigate the world alone.
I was intrigued by the premise of this story, and the way in which in focuses not just on the impact of slavery, but also the impact of being free from slavery, as Wash reflects on his past. The path that Wash takes is certainly an interesting one, and through the novel’s four parts we see him at different points in his life, and at multiple locations as his freedom takes him further than he ever imagined. This gives the story a broad, ambitious scope, with each of the locations vividly portrayed as Wash searches for what he has lost, and those who left him behind. There were lots of powerful moments in the book, from the depictions of slavery to the relationships that are built along the way. And throughout Wash is haunted by the memories of his past, and faces internal battles over his own freedom, and the guilt that he feels in this new life and journey. It is a journey that takes the reader to different parts of the world, as a story unfolds that is filled with adventure and discovery, and love and war as we see Washington Black navigate a changing world.
Washington Black is an enjoyable and fascinating story of freedom and adventure that is vividly imagined. It is an ambitious and powerfully written story, which explores the good and bad in humanity, as we follow one man’s journey to freedom, and beyond.