Washington Black by Esi Edugyan


My Review:

With history, science and creativity, talented author Esi Edugyan tells the story of an 11 year old slave, in Barbados and his adventurous escape to freedom.  Washington Black, or Wash, brought up in the sugar cane fields, experienced more than his share of oppression, suffering and abuse.  When the slave master’s brother, Titch, visits the plantation and asks for the boy to be loaned to him, an unusual friendship and reliance developed between the two.

Growing up among brutal violence, Wash found Titch to be a father figure.  Titch was an abolitionist at heart and although he was focused on his scientific discovery of a flying machine, he provided opportunity for Wash as he taught him to read and nurtured his artistic abilities.  When Wash found himself in a dangerous situation, Titch abandoned his scientific experimentation to save him and they journeyed to the Arctic, where Wash gained his freedom, yet deep seeded scars of his past lingered, contributing to his ongoing struggle with truly feeling free.

The two parted ways and Wash clumsily navigated his first feelings of love and independence while he continued his quest for connection, respect and feelings of belonging, safety and equality.

Esu Edugyan’s characters are deep and well developed, and the story is heartbreaking, heartwarming, adventurous and rich with history.  When we learn and think about slavery we remember and try to understand the brutality inflicted on human beings, and the horrific mindset slave owners embodied, but the author brings to light more than just the struggles, abuse and loss of dignity, loss of self respect and self worth and loss of life…she reminds us of the incredible talents, contributions and genius that were sacrificed by taking away the rights of so many.

Finding love and pursuing scientific discovery began to fulfill Wash’s dreams for a well lived life yet, even when he was free and slavery was outlawed, he was haunted by his past.  “I became a boy without identity, a walking shadow, and with each new month I fell deeper into strangeness.  For there could be no belonging for a creature such as myself, anywhere; a disfigured black boy with a scientific turn of mind and a talent on canvas, running, always running, from the dimmest of shadows.”

This is a story of a slave, his passage to freedom, his never ending search for identity, love, family and success.  It is an incredible adventure from the islands to the Arctic and beyond.  Can we overcome setbacks from our youth, or do we carry scars that impact our life forever?

In Washington Black, Edugyan gives Wash physical scars from the past reminding us that we are made up of life experiences that cannot be erased, and who we are is developed from our life journey.  Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, for me this is a winner!

Goodreads Summary


About the Author as seen on Goodreads:

Esi Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006).

Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. It was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was a More Book Lust selection, and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of 2004’s Books to Remember.

Edugyan has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. She has taught creative writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria, and has sat on many international panels, including the LesART Literary Festival in Esslingen, Germany, the Budapest Book Fair in Hungary, and Barnard College in New York City.

She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.


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