Book Review: Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill, 2007

Hill’s protagonist has one of the most important stories for all of us to read. It may be historical fiction but it is rooted in a very real and very dark aspect of our collective consciousness. History lessons aside, this is one of the greatest stories ever told, impeccably written and thoroughly engaging. It’s hard not to develop a ‘crush’ on this book part-way through and suffer heartbreak when you’re finished.

Aminata Diallo is a little girl in Mali, whose life is set on a remarkable and harrowing course as she is swept away in the slave trade. She is a heroine like no other, traversing the world and the breadth of human cruelty and kindness. Hill’s research detail makes this book utterly fascinating. Knowing that there actually was a historical document called “The Book of Negroes,” cataloguing the African-American slaves that had pledged allegiance to the Queen, thereby negotiating their freedom in British North America. Knowing that a settlement of liberated slaves flourished and then vanished on Canada’s east coast. Knowing this true history and reading this richly detailed work of fiction is what makes it so successful.

Still, Hill would probably not want this book to be remembered or celebrated for its reanimation of an important era in our history. He has written a great novel, created a miraculous heroine, and told a gripping story. That’s what fiction is about, afterall.

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