This novel by Lawrence Hill tells the epic story of Aminata Diallo, a young girl from West Africa who was abducted and sold into slavery. The story of her life is told through the first person covering her years on plantation in South Carolina, her involvement in the war of independence and her subsequent journeys to Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. We learn of the love of her life and the fate of her daughter.
This is a work of fiction but it is based on historical events, documented in several countries. ‘The Book of Negroes’ which gives the novel its title is the ledger of names inscribed of black men and women who supported the British during the war of independence. In return for their loyalty, they were offered freedom and new lives in the ports of Nova Scotia. The details of the ‘Negroes’ shows the malign effect of the trade. Their names are often the names of their former owners rather than any name they own.
The British owed a debt of gratitude to the loyal blacks but they were careless in fulfilling their obligations as is clear from the later stages of Aminata’s life. The racism faced by the refugees in Nova Scotia was as bad as anything they faced in the States. Lawrence Hill carefully introduces real figures from history to anchor the story in the unfolding events.
The book is structured into four sections. At the beginning of each, it is the voice of the older Aminata we hear, in London to give testimony. There she witnessed the passing of the act to abolish slavery, passed by the British Parliament in 1807.
Throughout the adversity she faces, her spirit remains intact and this, over all, is what makes this story an important one to read.
‘The Book of Negroes’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?