Washington Black (2018) by Esi
This is one of the best novels I have ever
read. By turns heartbreaking and
inspiring—I was enthralled from the first page to the last. I read it in a matter of hours because I
could not put it down.
The plot involves a young slave named
Washington Black, called “Wash,” who leaves Faith plantation on Barbados with a
white man, Christopher Wilde, the adventurous brother of the hateful plantation
Initially set in Barbados in 1830, the
story immerses us in the cruelties and horrors of slavery, all while giving us
reason for hope with the arrival of Wilde’s brother “Titch” as Christopher is
known. Early in the story, Titch takes Wash
into his care because, as we find out, he needed a boy of a certain height and
weight for his flight in the Cloud-Cutter, a balloon reminiscent of those in a
Jules Verne novel.
As he learns to trust Titch, Wash also
learns more about himself and his own talents: he is an artist and a visionary. Titch encourages his growing talents and
depends on Wash to help him complete his plans to launch the Cloud-Cutter. With the help of the other slaves, the two
take off but soon hit bad weather, and the balloon collides with a ship. On this ship, they reach America, but their
troubles are not over. They will encounter many dangers as well as see
incredible beauty before the novel comes to an end.
Edugyan takes readers on an adventurous, perilous
ride in which Wash discovers who he is and who he wants to be. The story has the feeling of magical realism,
but for all of the “magic” that happens, we remain grounded in the realistic
depictions of the brutality of slavery and the consequences of hating our fellow
This book is in the grand tradition of the
bildungsroman—in every way this is a coming of age story. But it is so much more than that. Wash’s story is one for our times, one for
all times, when it is all too easy to turn a blind eye to the suffering that is
right underneath our noses. Washington Black is a lesson in how to
survive; it is primer on human behavior—the good, bad, and inbetween. It is
also a love story of great depth and beauty—not just between Wash and Tanna
(the daughter of a marine scientist with whom Wash works), but between the
reader and the narrator. His voice is
haunting, right up to the end of the story.
I wanted more, but he had finished with what he wanted to tell us. The story he tells is life-changing.