Washington Black

Washington Black

Book - 2018 | First United States edition.
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Oct 29, 2019

This book goes in a way I wasn't expecting, especially given that it stared off about slavery. It also does some sci-fi-ish stuff that I appreciated.

Oct 02, 2019

For obvious reasons, one can't help but think of Huck Finn when reading this novel. I would say the novel had all the markings of an adventure story via a fugitive tale and a family drama with a mystery folded in. There were some good twists and turns in the novel as adventure stories are prone, but there were also twists and turns of the heart and world view.

It was an interesting story overall with a great setup. It was also a really fast read. There were some important insights in the novel, though I'm not sure I can say they felt like they came directly from the characters more than the author. The author is a good writer, she knows how to tell a story. My main complaint is that I never really felt like most of characters had a distinctive voice. I don't mean to say the characters weren't distinctive. The characters were clearly defined. I just mean that none of them jumped off the page for me. Some of the situations seemed a bit forced too.

But overall, kudos to the author for tackling this tale. I very much liked art being part of the equation alongside science in the novel. Both are creative pursuits that help one see the world in a new way. Where the voice of the characters fell short for me, the locations and the art and science more than made up for it. The locations were starkly different and for the most part very well described. The locations were another character as they each left an indelible impression.

The novel starts out on a plantation in Barbados in 1820 and ends in Marrakesh mid-1830s. In between, it hits other places like the Arctic and England. The protagonist is a young boy when the story starts but history is narrated from the future when the protagonist is an adult.

Even though the tale was from the slave protagonists point of view, for the first part it had the strange feeling at times of being funneled through the white man's point of view. I thought early on that it might be because the protagonist was telling the story from the future, but after I finished the book I thought perhaps he was partly seeing himself through the white man's eyes as he remembered that time. It could have been interesting to tell it though the eyes of both.

About a third of the way into the novel, I quite liked the adventure of the story but I didn't feel like I heard the protagonists voice. I had a sense of him, I just couldn't hear his voice. Though I did feel for the protagonists plight. I was invested in his survival. About half way through the book, I still couldn't hear the protagonists voice but I could feel him more. This was the same for his traveling companion, the brother of the slaveholder.

As I progressed in the novel, I kept waiting for layers and depth of meaning to rise but for most of the novel it was very surface level with sporadic toe dipping into deeper realms. For the most part, the reader was expected to dive for it themselves or to bring their own depth to the table. Not that there weren't some really good insights throughout the book.

Betrayal seeps thick throughout this novel. Betrayal of others, betrayal of oneself. There was a beautiful passage when the protagonist mused about his current state being constructed around an absence. There was a brutal scene that really stays with the protagonist. It reminds him of how there is a thin thread between life and death, how some can stumble blamelessly onto the wrong side of it.

When I got toward the end, I felt like not every loose end needed to be tied up. But for the most part, it was about serving the larger story. There was a revelation toward the end that explained something, sort of, but it seemed a strange revelation.

The ending was poetic but not as much as it could have been. I understand what the author was going for but it fell a little flat. I think the project the protagonist was working on should have been a bigger part of the ending. Though there was merit to what the author tried to do.

STPL_JessH Sep 12, 2019

I love this book and consider it a masterpiece. It is both brutal and beautiful, cruel and careful. Edugyan's writing is so masterful and I was fortunate enough to experience it through Dion Graham's passionate narration. This is a quest narrative with multiple journeys, layers of meaning, and a great deal of nuance. I will definitely be rereading Washington Black in the future because I know it will continue to be compelling.

Sep 06, 2019

really intersting an engaging book, story. liked it alot. there are some ard to believ/explain things: how does a field sae with minimum reading capabilities, get to undrstand complicated mathmatical drawins and calculations? and how, des he who has not live by the water become something of an expert about marine zoologie? aside from these abit very fictitious aspects a great book, worth reading.

WCLSBlaineLibrary Aug 13, 2019

The young Washington Black can only anticipate a bleak future as a plantation slave until the owner's younger brother arrives in need of an assistant for his scientific work. Washington is thrown into adventure after adventure while wrestling with his past and uncovering abilities he never knew he had. Unusual characters, intriguing settings, a quirky fast-moving plot, and solid writing sets this book apart from others. The author's choice of ending was unexpected, and one upon which the reader may continue to reflect. ~Debby

Aug 12, 2019

Some historical lessons but I never really bought into the plot, and didn't like or believe in the characters.

Aug 04, 2019

A bit of science, a bit of mystery, a bit of history and a bit of adventure.

Jul 25, 2019

A beautifully-written novel of a young boy born into slavery on a Caribbean plantation whose life takes a wholly unexpected turn when the master's eccentric brother shows up. A true page-turner, it is by turns hopeful, tragic, humorous, moving and heartbreaking. I regret that the final quarter of the story felt drained of energy in comparison with the rest -- the highly-anticipated climax seemed to just peter out. Recommended!

Jul 18, 2019

A beautifully written tale of fantastical adventure that eloquently explores the human condition. Would have been a solid five stars, if not for the closing sentences.

Jul 07, 2019

The 2 stars are for the first, excellent 100 pages or so. We are introduced to our title character and narrator, an 11-year old slave on a Barbados plantation. The pacing, character development, and horrible tension are pitch-perfect. However, things go very downhill for the next 3/4 of the book. It becomes all tell and no show, and all from a narrator who becomes increasingly (and almost laughably) unbelievable -- and not in some unreliable narrator way, but in a poorly-conceived way. The coincidences and twists of fate are ridiculous. I found myself often saying "Wait... what??" And especially disappointing after the strong beginning and the very often beautiful writing. Sorry for the lack of details but the very idea of trying to explain the far-flying plot exhausts me.

My daughter tells me that I read this book with an expression that was "mostly confused but kind of pissed off too." Bingo.

Jun 30, 2019

Never before have I both loved and loathed a book, yet here I find myself; conflicted and confused. The majority of this novel is a treat but the ending goes out - not with a bang - but with a "meh".

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Jun 11, 2019

An interesting read...ultimately, it felt like the relationships between George Washington Black and Christopher Wilde was an allegory of the systemic relationship between "blackness" and "whiteness."

Jun 01, 2019

The book is a very entertaining read that held my attention, but I don’t understand the hype. The plot relies on too many convenient and contrived encounters to move the story along. The first half of the book on the plantation and early travels is the strongest; the last third is a travelogue that ends opaquely.

May 29, 2019

Tuesday February 25, 2020 Conifer Book Club

May 13, 2019

Easy to read, popular fiction, like a movie but a book, limited vocabulary, almost all-male cast. Entertaining, like a Reader's Digest story, but longer. Not literary fiction, more suited to children than adults.

May 04, 2019

different kind of book, got caught up in story, well written of course. recommend

Apr 21, 2019

The strange quest of a young black man through many lands as he attempts to survive and find meaning in his life. The story is sometimes shockingly brutal. Wash is deeply touched by several people in his life, until he finally comes upon the man who started him on the journey of his life! Set in the 1830 during the slave trade , which was abolished in England but not in America! Richly told with unforgettable characters.

Apr 01, 2019

This is a fascinating combination of the old and the new. It is a historical novel that roams around the Americas and England in the nineteenth century - sure we have a lot of excellent novels that do that. This novel's narrator is a man enslaved in Barbados who becomes an assistant to a white balloonist. Race relations then are of course a factor in the events and characterization in the novel. They are never preached about or singled out. They do not have to be - they are a part of the cards culture and society deal to the characters in the novel. This is Esi Edugyan's second novel. her first about jazz, Nazi Germany, and other things, I have just started. In "Washington Black", she weaves fascinating description that has just enough details to keep the reader involved and wanting to read ahead. Profound emotions we all experience, are described precisely: "I understood, in that terrible moment, the terrible bottomless nature of the open world, when one belongs nowhere, and to no one." Wash's drive to re-unite with his white mentor reaches a conclusion that seems inevitable, but leaves the reader with questions as well as some answers.

Mar 15, 2019

NYT 10 Best 2018

Mar 13, 2019

A wonderful novel. My first by this author, but it reminded me of Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes.

Mar 04, 2019


ArapahoeAnnaL Feb 19, 2019

One of the New York Times' 10 best of 2018, this stunning historical novel is fabulous from the point of view of the writing (gorgeously descriptive), the characters (poignant), and plot (journey of a boy from brutal slavery to freedom, love, intellectual adventure).

Feb 06, 2019

This title begs for a sequel. What happened to the little guy who expected nothing but ended up living and learning big?
Anymore family legacy attached ?

Jan 24, 2019

why enslavement, why freedom, why abandonment, why love - why me?
one of the best novels about enslavement that I have read
I also recommend The Polished Hoe by Austin Clark
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Jan 23, 2019

Jan 2019: Same author as the Second Life of Samual Tyne, which I couldn't finish because of the foreboding and evil atmosphere created by the author.
Washington Black, a young slave w/no family is brutalized and then, taken into the slave master's brother's home as "ballast" for his flying machine. In the course of preparing to fly, W learns about sea life and hones drawing skills. A series of adventures, in the Arctic, Nova Scotia and, finally London, leaves him in a somewhat-supportive environment, w a quirky partner (who he can't marry because she's white), fleeing from a vicious bounty hunter and working to build a dream, a oceanarium. And, searching for the brother, who abandons him in the Arctic.
Compelling writing; the hero's uncertainty, despair and rootlessness never leaves him while he continues to plow thru his life.

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