Washington Black

Esi Edugyan

Book - 2018

Washington Black is an eleven-year-old field slave who knows no other life than the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born. When his master's eccentric brother chooses him to be his manservant, Wash is terrified of the cruelties he is certain await him. But Christopher Wilde, or "Titch," is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor, and abolitionist. He initiates Wash into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky; where two people, separated by an impos...sible divide, might begin to see each other as human; and where a boy born in chains can embrace a life of dignity and meaning. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Titch abandons everything to save him. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic, where Wash, left on his own, must invent another new life.

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FICTION/Edugyan, Esi
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Subjects
Genres
Adventure fiction
Historical fiction
Action and adventure fiction
Published
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2018.
Edition
First United States edition
Language
English
Physical Description
333 pages ; 25 cm
ISBN
9780525521426
0525521429
Main Author
Esi Edugyan (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* ?The year 1830 finds 12-year-old George Washington ("Wash") Black enslaved on a sugar plantation in Barbados. His life changes dramatically when his master's younger brother, Titch, chooses him to assist with Titch's scientific experiments. When an innocent Wash is in danger of being charged with a death, he and Titch flee in a hot-air balloon of Titch's design. The balloon comes to ruin, but the two survive to journey to the Arctic, where they hope to determine if Titch's renowned scientist father is still alive. It is there that Titch abandons Wash. The boy, by now 13 and a gifted artist, makes his way to Nova Scotia where he meets the daughter of an eminent zoologist. The three journey to London where Wash begins to make it his business to find Titch, if he is still alive. There is something ineffable about Wash's subsequent search, just as there is a wonderful strangeness to the story, which Wash tells in his own eloquent and even aphoristic voice ("Nothing is possible until it is made so"). The story is memorable not only in its voice but also in its evocation of the horrors of slavery; and it is brilliant, too, in its construction of character. Wash and Titch are so alive as to be unforgettable, as is the story of their tangled relationship. This important novel from the author of the superb Half-Blood Blues (2012) belongs in every library. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Working in the sticky heat of the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born, 11-year-old field slave Washington Black is terrified when he's made manservant to his master's offbeat brother. But naturalist/explorer Wilde, or "Titch," eagerly introduces Wash to a brave new world and protects him when a bounty is placed on his head, as they flee north along America's Atlantic coast to the chilly Arctic. But in their world, can friendship last? From the author of the international best seller Half-Blood Blues, winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize and short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Much has been written recently about the vulnerability of the black body; think of the essays of Ta-Nehisi Coates or Roxane Gay. Canadian author Edugyan probes this subject through a remarkable coming-of-age story. Enslaved on a sugar plantation in Barbados, young George Washington Black lives a life so circumscribed that he's not even allowed to end it. Rescued from back-breaking work in the fields by amateur scientist Christopher "Titch" Wilde, nephew of the estate owner, Washington Black is schooled in math, English, and astronomy, discovering a penchant for illustration. For the next decade, he will wonder why he was chosen. Why, after they flee the island and at each stop along their picaresque journey to Virginia and on to an Arctic outpost, does Titch try to detach from the weight of Wash's need? Though physically free, Wash is never comfortable in his own black skin, and though he achieves a modicum of happiness, he will always be shackled to his past until he can fully understand it. VERDICT Edugyan, whose Half Blood Blues was a finalist for the Orange and Man Booker prizes and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, delivers a vibrant, poignant tale of a man's search for selfhood in a world where some see him as less than whole. [See Prepub Alert, 3/26/18.]—Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Edugyan's magnificent third novel (after Half-Blood Blues) again demonstrates her range and gifts. Eleven-year-old slave George Washington Black cuts sugar cane on a Barbados plantation owned by a sadistic Englishman named Erasmus Wilde until Wilde's scientist brother, Titch, visits in 1830 to work on the experimental airship he calls Cloud-cutter. Titch makes Wash his servant because the boy's weight makes suitable ballast for Cloud-cutter, teaches Wash to read, and nurtures his gift for scientific thought and illustration. As Wash is transformed—and confused—by Titch's tutelage, Erasmus becomes increasingly punitive toward him. Titch, afraid for his protégé's life, devises a risky nighttime escape on Cloud-cutter, which collides with the masts of a ship bound for Virginia. After arriving there, the two head northward, getting as far as the Arctic before Titch, insisting that Wash stay behind, strikes out into the snow for reasons Wash cannot understand. Not knowing whether Titch is alive or dead, Wash continues his travels and scientific work. But he feels compelled to find out Titch's fate and learn why his mentor rejected him. Framing the story with rich evocations of the era's science and the world it studies, Edugyan mines the tensions between individual goodwill and systemic oppression, belonging and exclusion, wonder and terror, and human and natural order. The novel's patience feels essential: the characters' many passages from painful endings to tentative rebirths are necessarily slow and searching. Crafted in supple, nuanced prose, Edugyan's novel is both searing and beautiful. (Sept.) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Unexpectedly chosen to be a family manservant, an eleven-year-old Barbados sugar-plantation slave is initiated into a world of scientific inquiry and dignity before a devastating betrayal propels him throughout the world in search of his true self.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Unexpectedly chosen to be a family manservant, an 11-year-old Barbados sugar-plantation slave is initiated into a world of technology and dignity before a devastating betrayal propels him throughout the world in search of his true self.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

• TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR: New York Times, Washington Post, TIME, Entertainment Weekly, Slate• ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Boston Globe, NPR, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Economist, Bustle• WINNER OF THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE• FINALIST FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE, THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE, THE ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST PRIZE"Enthralling" --Boston Globe  "Extraordinary" --Seattle Times  "A rip-roaring tale" --Washington PostA dazzling adventure story about a boy who rises from the ashes of slavery to become a free man of the world.George Washington Black, or "Wash," an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is terrified to be chosen by his master's brother as his manservant. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning--and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self. From the blistering cane fields of the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, from the earliest aquariums of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black tells a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, of a world destroyed and made whole again, and asks the question, What is true freedom?

Review by Publisher Summary 4

ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR • MAN BOOKER PRIZE FINALIST • “A gripping historical narrative exploring both the bounds of slavery and what it means to be truly free.” —Vanity FairEleven-year-old George Washington Black—or Wash—a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is initially terrified when he is chosen as the manservant of his master’s brother. To his surprise, however, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning, and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, they must abandon everything and flee together. Over the course of their travels, what brings Wash and Christopher together will tear them apart, propelling Wash ever farther across the globe in search of his true self. Spanning the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, London to Morocco, Washington Black is a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, and of a world destroyed and made whole again.