All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Man Booker Shortlist Pt1: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

on October 19, 2018

Washington Black 
Esi Edugyan
Serpent’s Tail
2018, 417p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

ESCAPE IS ONLY THE BEGINNING…

A stunning new novel of slavery and freedom by the author of the Man Booker and Orange Prize shortlisted Half Blood Blues.

When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him.

Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life. Inspired by a true story, Washington Black is the extraordinary tale of a world destroyed and made whole again.

So recently I decided on a whim to try and read the Man Booker shortlist. This is something I’ve attempted before or at least said I was going to attempt but I’ve never actually done it. Part of it is availability – there have been long lists in the past where none of them were available to me through my local library. However when I checked this year’s short list, my library had them all and some were even available right away. So I placed holds on all 6 and waited. Three came in relatively quickly – this novel, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, The Long Take by Robin Robertson and Milkman by Anna Burns.

From 7:30-8pm each night in my house is ‘quiet reading time’ where the TV goes off and we all read, no matter who is home. I decided that one of the short listed books might be a good one to try in these short bursts when there were no other distractions and so Washington Black was the one I picked to start first simply because the blurb was the most interesting to me. I was surprised just how much I didn’t want to put it down after that thirty minutes….in fact I ended up choosing to finish it over the weekend rather than just keep it to 30m each night because it was holding my interest far more than the book I was reading for review!

Washington Black is a slave born and working on a cane plantation in Barbados. One cruel master dies and is replaced by another, who takes extreme measures to prevent the workers from committing suicide. Washington’s life revolves around Big Kit, a fellow slave who has taken him under her wing, provides for him and protects him as best she can. But Wash, as he is known, has his life changed forever when the master’s younger brother arrives and decides that Wash will make the perfect assistant.

It looks like a promotion – Wash is relieved from his field duties to help his new master Christopher, known as Titch. He isn’t treated like a slave, but he has duties he is expected to perform and Titch also expects him to learn to read, write and do calculations. For a while it seems as though Wash’s life has been bettered by his attachment to Titch but it doesn’t take long before one disaster, and then another befalls him and Titch decides that they must flee in his ‘cloud-cutter’.

I found this enjoyable, if slightly implausible but it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the settings, from the Barbados plantation to the journey north to the Arctic and then to London and further abroad. Washington is such an interesting child – in fact so much so that I often forgot he was just a child and that for the bulk of the book he’s a mere teenager and for a large portion he’s on his own. His relationship for want of a better term, with Titch is also interesting. Despite Titch’s seemingly progressive views, they can not be seen as true equals and it’s obvious every where that they go. Titch’s determination that Wash be ‘free’ leads him to do something (yet again) drastic and it’s something that haunts Wash for years to come. So much so that he can only gain peace by finding the answers to his questions….and I think he’s left somewhat disappointed.

Although slavery is abolished whilst Wash is still in his teenage years (except in the US), in some ways it changes little for him. He may be ‘free’ in nearly all places and cannot ever be forced to return to the plantation, there’s still a strong prejudice against people of colour in many places. He’s looked down upon, seen as different or not good enough, not husband material, not clever enough to put his name to something that he’s thought of but good enough to do the hard work on it. There’s a lot of debate about whether or not Titch really helped him, or saw him as an equal or just wanted to think of himself as progressive, above all the stuff that his brother was about. He was never physically violent to Wash, nor did he treat him badly in most ways but he’s also the reason for severe injuries Wash sustains and he also abandons him, leaving him vulnerable and confused and haunted by it for years. I think Wash finally comes to an understanding about Titch and that he’s perhaps not all Wash had believed him to be as an 11 year old and that Titch may be the one who never really ‘grew up’, who will repeat the same events over and over, all the while thinking that he’s helping and what he’s doing is beneficial.

I really enjoyed this…..I’d really like to read Esi Edugyan’s other books.

8/10

Book #176 of 2018

***By the time this review goes up, the winner of the Man Booker prize will already be announced so there’s no way I’m going to be able to complete the shortlist before that happens. However I’m still going to aim to complete it, even if the winner is the one book I’ve already read***


One response to “Man Booker Shortlist Pt1: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

  1. This sounds like a great book, one I’d probably like. Also, I love your 30 minutes an evening quiet reading time! Wonderful!!

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