From the author of Half-Blood Blues. In the early 19th century, Washington Black leaves the Barbados plantation where he was born to be the manservant of Christopher Wilde, a naturalist and abolitionist who gives Wash a life of dignity and meaning, introducing him to flying machines. But when a bounty is placed on Wash’s head following a murder, Wilde travels with Wash across continents to save him.
The story is memorable not only in its voice but also in its evocation of the horrors of slavery; and it is brilliant, too, in its construction of character. Wash and Titch are so alive as to be unforgettable, as is the story of their tangled relationship. This important novel from the author of the superb Half-Blood Blues (2012) belongs in every library.
These events unfold with a Tarantino-esque savagery, our narrator staggering through each awful moment. Yet Edugyan’s prose wraps elegantly over each blow. She has a taste for incessant similes, some of which are memorable, while others reduce rather than increase the immediacy of experiences ... Here, instead, we are looking at the art directly from the point of view of the artist, and although Edugyan tries to give the flavour of the art Black creates, it is almost too exquisite to be imaginable ... As the book develops, its coincidences and denouements appear to suggest something more like myth than realism...The increasingly magical tone is jarring, given the dark realities confronted in the beginning of the book ... I found myself wishing she had spent more time examining the repercussions of such complex realities on the inner lives of her characters, and less time on the mazes of her narrative ... The journey that Edugyan takes us on is fascinating and enjoyable, but rather like the hot air balloon that took Black from Barbados, it sometimes drifts off course.
Edugyan displays as much ingenuity and resourcefulness as her main characters in spinning this yarn, and the reader’s expectations are upended almost as often as her hero’s. A thoughtful, boldly imagined ripsnorter that broadens inventive possibilities for the antebellum novel.