Sunday, 3 April 2011
Someone Knows My Name: Review
By Lawrence Hill
Published by W. W. Norton and Company Inc.
Published in 2008
Note: This novel was first published in Canada under the title The Book of Negroes.
Some books are pleasant enough reads but drift out of memory not long after the last page is read and the cover closed. Others, however, affect you in such a way that you walk around in the grip of the story for a good while after finishing the book. Someone Knows My Name was one of those books - spanning 56 years and three continents, it follows the life of Aminata Diallo, a young girl snatched from outside her village in Africa and sold into slavery. Her story is one of survival, a constant battle against seemingly insurmountable odds. The narrative tracks her journey from her village Bayo to the coast of Africa, across the Atlantic ocean to Southern Carolina, north to New York, further north still to Nova Scotia in Canada, back across the Atlantic to Sierra Leone and then finally to London, England. It is here in London that Aminata is writing out her story as testimony that will be used by those seeking to abolish the slave trade.
The inspiration for this story is the Book of Negroes, a little known document listing the names and details of all of the Black Loyalists (those on the side of the British, that is) who were evacuated from New York during the American Revolutionary war. In the novel, Aminata, thanks to her exceptional literacy, is one of the scribes for this document. The novel goes far beyond just the creation of this document and the evacuation, however. It covers the all sides of slavery, from acquisition to freedom to abolition.
The character and story of Aminata is one that will keep you enthralled. She is strong, capable, sassy and incredibly smart - someone who makes herself at home in your heart and mind and doesn't leave. The only quibble I had with this book was that her story was a little too exceptional at times. Although no single event was necessarily implausible, it seemed that for everything to have happened to one person was too convenient. It was as if the story that the author wanted to tell was too big to be restricted to the experiences of one character. If you can suspend your disbelief, however, this is certainly a great read. There is plenty of action, a colourful cast of characters, excellent historical and geographical detail and plenty of food for thought. Although the events described happened a long time ago, their effects still echo down the generations. Novels like this provide us with real access to histories we might not have encountered otherwise and illuminate that which may not previously have seen. I definitely recommend this book.