Read by Dion Graham
Published September 2018 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook borrowed from my library
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?
Oh my goodness, folks, I absolutely loved this book on audio. Dion Graham does a phenomenal job of putting a voice to George Washington Black; his voice seems to pick up all the bits of accents that Wash would have acquired from the plantation to his time with Christopher Wilde (Titch) to his time in Canada and then on to England. I think I would have very much enjoyed this book as read even had it only been an average book. It is so much more, though, than an average book.
Washington Black begins as a novel about slavery in British-ruled Barbados just a few years before Britain outlawed slavery. Young Wash is cared for by Big Kit, a mother figure who sees that way things turn when a new, cruel owner takes over Faith Plantation.
“Death was a door. I think that is what she wished me to understand. She did not fear it. She was of an ancient faith rooted in the high river lands of Africa, and in that faith the dead were reborn, whole, back in their homelands, to walk again free.”But Edugyan is not writing a book about slavery, she's writing a book about the relationship between a young man and the only father he has ever known. Titch is a white man who has stolen Wash, a man who is a secret abolitionist who has benefited his entire life because of slavery, and a man with a complicated relationship with his own father. It makes for a very complicated relationship made all the more complicated when Titch walks away from camp in the Arctic into a snowstorm, leaving a teenaged Wash to make his own way in the world.
Edugyan gives the book just enough tension, just enough violence to make readers understand that world that Wash must survive but the book never gets weighed down in that. This is Wash's story about learning to read the world to survive it, finding a new family, and becoming a man who never forgets the man who he loved but who left him.
Did I mention that I loved this book? I will not forget Wash or his story any time soon.