Washington Black Audiobook
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Barbados, 1830. George Washington Black is a slave on Faith Plantation, where he works in the sugarcane fields. He is ten or eleven years old when his first master dies. Dashing all hope of better conditions, his new master proves to be far worse than the first one. The thugs he recruits from the dock as overseers are sadistic and quick to maim or even kill slaves for slight infractions. The master himself is no better. But Wash’s circumstances quickly improve when the master’s younger brother arrives and claims him as his assistant. Esi Edugyan’s haunting new novel, Washington Black, centers on the deepening relationship between these two men.
Wash’s new master is a tall, thin man in his thirties named Christopher Wilde. He is known as Titch. Like his father, Titch is a man of science. He’s also an abolitionist who disdains his brother’s cruel treatment of his slaves. “Negroes are God’s creatures also,” Titch tells Wash, “with all due rights and freedoms. Slavery is a moral stain against us. If anything will keep white men from their heaven, it is this.” Wash is astonished to find that Titch treats him like a human being, although he senses in the older man’s labored wording about race relations that Titch is a racist despite his opposition to slavery. But Wash’s stature rises even further when Titch discovers that he has a genius for drawing.
A haunting coming-of-age story about slavery and science
Wash narrates this tale as a freeman at age eighteen, following the pair’s travels from Barbados, to Virginia, Hudson Bay, Nova Scotia, England, Holland, and finally Morocco. The book spans seven or eight years as Wash experiences adolescence and discovers himself as a thinking human being. As Wash explains, “I have walked this earth for eighteen years. I am a Freeman now in possession of my own person.” Although Washington Black is at its heart about slavery, it’s also a coming-of-age story. Literary critics might call it a Bildungsroman that focuses on Wash’s intellectual and moral development. But the novel is also insightful about both science and abolitionism in the 19th century. (Note: science was called “natural philosophy” until much later in the century, although Edugyan doesn’t note this.)
The result is a haunting tale of a brilliant boy who emerges into manhood an accomplished artist and inventor. Yet Wash’s newfound self-confidence is not complete. “I had long seen science as the great equalizer,” he notes. “No matter one’s race, or sex, or faith—there were facts in the world waiting to be discovered. How little thought I’d given to the ways in which it might be corrupted.”
Slavery in 19th-century England and its Empire
Slavery persisted in the United States until 1863 and in Brazil until 1888. Yet both England’s Parliament and the US Congress abolished the slave trade in 1807. (In the case of the US, abolition did not apply to the slave trade internally.) Slavery was completely eliminated in the British Empire in 1833, midway through the period in which Washington Black is set. Later in the century, slavery and science would intersect in the pseudoscience called “scientific racism” that was grounded in a perversion of Charles Darwin’s theories called “Social Darwinism.”
Other reviewers’ comments about the novel
Colm Toibin reviewed Washington Black for the New York Times (September 27, 2018). He wrote, “What Edugyan has done in ‘Washington Black’ is to complicate the historical narrative by focusing on one unique and self-led figure. Washington Black’s presence in these pages is fierce and unsettling. His urge to live all he can is matched by his eloquence, his restless mind striving beyond its own confines in tones that are sometimes overstretched, if brilliant, and then filled with calm subtlety and nuance.” The Times later named the novel one of the ten best books of 2018.
In the New Yorker (September 24, 2018), Laura Miller noted that “Edugyan transforms ‘Washington Black’ from a Grand Guignol of slavery’s horrors into a lush, exhilarating travelogue reminiscent of Jules Verne, full of improbable events and encounters but with a splinter lodged in its heart.” The subhead of Miller’s review reads, “The tormented friendship at the heart of Esi Edugyan’s third novel complicates the story of a slave’s path to freedom.” That’s about right.
Washington Black audiobook no Series
Set in the early 1800s, a soulful and adventurous search for freedom, told in the first person by a burned black slave who travels the world and becomes a British scientist. Enchantingly written.
It was a quite enjoyable story. The progress of reading was pretty easy to follow and understood. The journey that Wash had was pretty long around. I do wish for more on the last 1/3. For some reason, I felt there was a disconnect between the plot and subplot nearing the end. Another than that, I think the book was pretty good overall.
Audiobook Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Novelist Esi Edugyan has proven once again, in “Washington Black,” to be fully in control of our five senses. As in her previous novel, “Half-Blood Blues,” her ability to invoke sensory reaction to her writing is strongly reflected in this tribute to the urge to be free and accepted.
Washington Black, a young boy slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is chosen to be his master’s brother’s manservant. The eccentric Christopher Wilde, a naturalist, explorer, scientist, and abolitionist takes the boy on a wild journey that starts with a flying machine and continues by Underground Railroad and ship until, eventually, the pair finds themselves in the frozen expanse of the Arctic where Wilde disappears. It’s a sort of “Around the World in Eighty Days” with much darker implications.
It’s a brilliant story of revelation, invention, and determination by a boy who, though frightened by events that challenge his young imagination, finds a life of evasion that evolves into love, as he seeks autonomy from his racial bonds and the severe disfigurement from burns suffered during his early association with his mentor. Although he eventually becomes a free man, he never really recovers from the trauma suffered during his early days of slavery.
Edugyan gathers the threads of existence in blistering hot Barbados, the frozen expanse of the Arctic, the stuffy dampness of London, and the simmering deserts of Morocco and weaves a tapestry of feelings that the reader can actually sense. Her lyrical word play is magnificent. It’s a display of talent that is worthy of greatness.
Her parents emigrated from Ghana, settled in Canada, and Edugyan now lives in Victoria, British Columbia. She admits to suffering a bit of horror as she lived through slavery’s dire existence while researching her novel, but feels it was important to the authenticity of her writing. The book was a finalist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize and well deserving of the honor.
Audio Washington Black narrated by Dion Graham
I read the press reviews of this when it was first published and it sounded just my kind of book. Which it was really but it was also a bit of a let down. The first half is gripping and sets a pace. But from half way really after they leave Barbados it flags and has some pretty unlikely scenarios. Wash as a character begins to annoy; his fixation with Titch seems so unlikely. The constant reference to his scarred face, the travelling the world with such seeming ease, the fight with Willard and his subsequent haning. It just piles up unlikelihoods. And the ending, well where was that all going? I dont think it was a candidate for Booker shortlist; it just was not strong enough or a coherent whole. Pity. Held such promise. Seemed like she didnt know how to end it.
Free audio Washington Black – in the audio player below
I should begin by saying that I haven’t read this book yet. I bought it for my wife and she hasn’t read it yet either. However, she is Bajan and an historian and her immediate reaction was “What British plantation owner would name a slave after George Washington?!” It’s true that the young GW spent a few months in Barbados, but it beggars belief that post-US independence a slave in a British colony would be named after someone who was regarded by the British as a notorious traitor. After all, when the novel is set there was still immense hostility between Britain and the US. It may sound like a pedantic point but I can only assume that the author chose the name to appeal to a US readership, and I until I read it I can only wonder what other historical howlers lurk within.
This is a book of complexity of the many facets of human nature, how we see ourselves and how we would like to be seen and treated by others. Washington Black a slave child on Faith Plantation plucked from a miserable brutal existence by the brother of the plantation owner, tries to make sense of his new life and all that follows. His saviour Titch is fighting his own demons of guilt.
A fantastical journey follows taking in escape by ballon flight, scientific polar exploration, and flight from a slave catcher, as Washington Black matures but never fully understands why he was abandoned until the end of the book.
Maybe the character of Washington becomes unconvincing and too intellectual mid way, I still found the book a great read, and beautifully written.
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