Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black is a gripping and fresh novel about a slave for whom escape is only the start of his unusual adventures. Eleven-year-old Washington Black knows only the Barbados plantation where he has lived as long as he remembers. When the old master dies and his cruel nephew takes over, Wash finds a strange opportunity: he is selected as the personal servant and assistant to the new master’s eccentric brother, Titch, who is working on a flying machine. However, Wash and Titch’s plan is soon scuppered and they are forced to leave the island. The novel follows Washington from the Arctic to Morocco as he finds an interest in marine biology and learns how to make his way in the world.

This is a surprising book, multi-faceted in its narrative. The shock to Wash of the places he ends up is mirrored in the way the book feels solidly set in Barbados until the point Wash and Titch leave. Slavery is vital to the narrative and so is freedom, in different forms, as Wash’s escape does not free him from thoughts of what he left behind, or the dangers of being an escaped slave and and a black boy. It is also a kind of coming of age novel, as Wash ages from eleven to eighteen across the novel and discovers a lot about the world and about his own interests. The writing style suits the novel, not trying too hard to be historical, and keeps the novel moving forward with pace.

Washington Black is a fresh kind of historical adventure novel that mixes science, exploration, freedom, discovery, and slavery. Wash is an inquisitive, complex protagonist coming to grips with the world, and his relationships with other characters show the inherent prejudices and ignorance of even well-meaning, abolitionist white people. Edugyan creates a twisting historical narrative that manages to capture wonder and darkness.

1 thought on “Washington Black by Esi Edugyan”

Comments are closed.