The Book of Negroes
Lawrence Hill’s novel is inspired by a fascinating historical document called “The Book of Negroes” which provides a record of the freed Loyalist slaves who were given permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia only to find a life of continued oppression and hardship. In this powerful and poignant story, Hill transports the reader from an African village to the plantations of the southern US, from the crowded docks of Nova Scotia to the havoc of a fledgling community on the shores of West Africa.
The book’s storyteller and main character, Aminata (“Meena”) Diallo, recounts her life. Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa, she was forced to walk for months in a coffle—a string of slaves—to the coast where she is sent by slave ship to South Carolina. As the story progresses, we walk alongside Meena as she struggles first to free herself of slavery and then to help build a community and find some level of personal happiness.
The book provides a touching and powerful account of what one person’s life may have been like during the international slave trade during the late 18th Century. It also invites the reader to learn about an important chapter in Canada’s history that saw the development of new Maritime communities created by former slaves who left the US and the subsequent 1,200 of whom embarked on a further harrowing journey back to Africa to establish the community of Freetown in Sierra Leone.
However, The Book of Negroes is about more than slavery. It challenges our understanding of history and the imbalances of power that continue to characterize our world today. It explores what “home” means and the process of “place-making” in building personal lives and communities. Most critically, it exposes the struggle of people whose lives have been defined by racism, sexism, slave labour, forced migration and their responding struggle for human rights.
The Book of Negroes is the overall Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen Award and winning selection for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. Filming begins this fall in South Africa on a six-part television miniseries adaptation of the book.