• Sarina Bosco

Washington Black | Esi Edugyan

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

Read If: you're interested in life from a slave's POV, but with some adventure, you love twists and turns, you're scientifically/knowledge-minded.

Absolutely loved this book. Yes, it can be dense for those who aren't used to this level of reading or language, but it's a wonderfully told story that is balanced in terms of maturity, adventure, and genuinely interesting characters and situations. Easily one of the top books I read in 2021. I'm definitely disappointed in seeing so many "meh" reviews.

I picked up this book because the cover is gorgeous and promises adventure, as does the summary. Edugyan definitely doesn’t let down. Spanning just a section of Washington Black’s life, what starts out as a guaranteed life of horrors on a plantation morphs into an adventure-driven series of events. But the consequences of being a black man, and a disfigured one, at this time in history never really leave Wash. Even when he seems to finally be settling into a life of innovation and achievement, as well as love, there are seemingly small instances of racism and cruelty that he takes in stride, but which gnaw at the reader.

Edugyan’s writing style and language isn’t light. At first I assumed it would take me a few weeks to get through this book, even if I enjoyed it. But it is a page turner in the very sense of the phrase. I couldn’t put it down and needed to know what was going to happen to Wash next, where he was going to go, who else he was going to lose or find unexpectedly. For me, moments of relatability could be found in the awe of the world around us that Esi Edugyan describes – as Wash discovers a love of drawing, intricate sea creatures, and scientific innovations. Edugyan does a beautiful job describing people as well. Her characters are somehow grounded, solid, and haunting in an ethereal way. Certain scenes continue to play over and over in my head. The plot is anything but linear and I rarely felt a lull that left me wanting.

This book definitely reminded me how much I love science and learning. Living vicariously through Wash as he has a whole world opened up to him is addictive. Those moments are also underscored by a constant ache for what was historically happening to black people at the time. Edugyan did a great job of weaving in the horrors of everyday life on plantations, not just in America but in other colonies as well, and to see how “normal” this was for her characters was shocking in a very necessary way. I also couldn’t get over how Edugyan expresses the experience of our perception of others and their intentions changing and shaping us as we get older and learn more about life.

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