Monday, 11 March 2013

The Book of Negroes

Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle—a string of slaves— Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes.” This book, an actual document, provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own.
Aminata’s eventual return to Sierra Leone—passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America—is an engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey. Lawrence Hill is a master at transforming the neglected corners of history into brilliant imaginings, as engaging and revealing as only the best historical fiction can be. A sweeping story that transports the reader from a tribal African village to a plantation in the southern United States, from the teeming Halifax docks to the manor houses of London, The Book of Negroes introduces one of the strongest female characters in recent Canadian fiction, one who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her sex.

The Original Book of Negroes
The Book of Negroes borrows its title from a 1783 British document. It listed the names of the blacks who were awarded passage out of New York after the American Revolutionary War. These individuals had to prove they had served the British army for at least a year and that they were free. Copies of the book are available at a handful of libraries, with the original held in London, England. It contains the names and descriptions of 3,000 black men women and children.

About the Author
 
 Lawrence Hill was born in Toronto in 1957 to an interracial American couple, the civil rights activists Daniel and Donna Hill. The pair came to Canada just after marrying, wishing to raise a family in a less racially hostile environment. Lawrence's background is black and white and Canadian and American, and this range of experiences and perspectives informs his writing.
He has written several books, including two previous novels: Some Great Thing (1992) and the immensely popular Any Known Blood (1997), a fictionalized account of his family history that crisscrosses the U.S./Canada border.
The Book of Negroes, a national bestseller, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for overall best book and has been widely acclaimed in Canada and internationally.
Lawrence's non-fiction works include a memoir, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada and The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq , co-written with Joshua Key.
Lawrence has a B.A. in economics from Laval University and an M.A. in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. He has worked as a reporter for the Globe and Mail and the Winnipeg Free Press and has won numerous awards, including a National Magazine Award for an article that appeared in Walrus magazine: "Is Africa's Pain Black America's Burden?" and an American Wilbur Award for best television documentary for Seeking Salvation: A History of the Black Church in Canada .
Lawrence's father, the late Daniel Hill, Sr., was the director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and, later, Ombudsman of Ontario. His brother is the singer/songwriter Dan Hill.
Lawrence grew up in the suburb of Don Mills, Ontario, and currently lives in Burlington, Ontario, with his wife and their five children

Reviews

The Guardian
The NY Times