The Book of Negroes / Someone Knows My Name
Lawrence Hill's new novel is published as Someone Knows My Name in the USA, Australia and New Zealand and appears in Canada as The Book of Negroes.
Let me begin with a caveat to any and all who find these pages. Do not trust large bodies of water, and do not cross them. If you, Dear Reader, have an African hue and find yourself led toward water with vanishing shores, seize your freedom by any means necessary. And cultivate distrust of the colour pink. Pink is taken as the colour of innocence, the colour of childhood, but as it spills across the water in the light of the dying sun, do not fall into its pretty path. There, right underneath, lies a bottomless graveyard of children, mothers and men. I shudder to imagine all the Africans rocking in the deep. Every time I have sailed the seas, I have had the sense of gliding over the unburied. Some people call the sunset a creation of extraordinary beauty, and proof of God's existence. But what benevolent force would bewitch the human spirit by choosing pink to light the path of a slave vessel?
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The History Behind the Novel
Lawrence Hill's novel is inspired by a fascinating but little known historical document called the Book of Negroes, copies of which can be found in the USA at the New York Public Library, the Rockefeller Library at Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia) and the U.S. National Archives in Washington D.C. In Canada, copies of the same historical document can be found in the Nova Scotia Public Archives and in the National Archives of Canada. Lawrence Hill wrote a feature article called "Freedom Bound" about the historical document The Book of Negroes in the February/March 2007 edition of The Beaver: Canada's History Magazine.
Lawrence Hill spoke with CBC Arts Online about the history and his novel. You can read the interview at http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/book_of_negroes.html.
Reviews from Canada
"The Book of Negroes is a masterpiece, daring and impressive in its geographic, historical and human reach, convincing in its narrative art and detail, necessary for imagining the real beyond the traces left by history."
"Aminata is a heroic figure, a little larger than life, residing within and outside of history. You can never forget this character. She embeds herself in your heart."
"Anna Karenina. Hagar Shipley. Aminata Diallo....the exclusive club that includes literature's most memorable characters now has a remarkable new member."
"In Aminata Diallo, who evolves from stolen village child to the conscience of abolition, writer Lawrence Hill has crafted one of the most memorable female characters in Canadian fiction.... And here's how readers will come to know this — Aminata tends to linger long after the book's been finished and put aside....The Book of Negroes is thoughtful, stirring, saddening, resplendent and joyful. It's an evocative tome, and among the best in our fiction."
"Hill's engaging narrator and the scope of her trajectory make this novel a truly compelling read. It is, however, Hill's ability to observe the multi-faceted issue of race with sensitivity, compassion and a keen sense of justice, that makes The Book of Negroes not just a good book, but a great one — worthy of every honour it is sure to receive."
Reviews from the U.S.A.
"Lawrence Hill's hugely impressive historical work is completely engrossing and deserves a wide, international readership."
"[A] wonderfully written fictional slave narrative…populated by vivid characters and rendered in fascinating detail."
"Astonishing in scope, humanity and beauty, this is one of those very rare novels in which the deep joy of reading transcends its time and place...Someone Knows My Name lets readers experience a life, one footstep at a time, beside an unforgettable protagonist."
"Stunning, wrenching and inspiring...Hill's book is a harrowing, breathtaking tour de force."
Reviews from Australia
“…a superb saga to get lost in…a deeply moving book of great finesse and nuance, impossible to put down…”
“Lawrence Hill has expertly mastered [Aminata's] unique and compelling voice…Hill draws such a fascinating and wonderfully realized character that accompanying her on her life journey is not only a pleasure but a privilege.”