If you’ve been following along on social media, you’ll know I’ve been slowly but surely reading this book over the last few weeks. It took me a lot longer than I would usually expect for a book of this length but I don’t mind. It was a book that needed that time.
This is a good old fashioned Bildungsroman, following the life of Washington Black. Known more casually as Wash, he was born a slave before selected to be the personal servant of an English gentleman. His service to Christopher Wilde – known as Titch – takes him far from his Barbados plantation and into a world Wash had never known.
Washington Black covers a lot in its 400 or so pages due to the remarkable life that Wash leads. It does mean that the pacing is a little off in places but it makes for a wonderful book overall that sweeps you up in it. It is a book that demands your attention and rightfully so.
I was utterly captivated by this story and the character of Washington Black, a naturally talented artist and scientist. He is a wonderfully complex character who is sensitive, loyal, inquisitive, innovative and reserved all at once. Watching him grow up was wonderful but it was also brutal. This book does not shy away from the terrible realities of slavery and racism, which makes it a difficult thing to read at times. Important and well handled, but difficult. It’s part of the reason why I it took me a while to read ; some of the abuse that Wash and the other slaves endures really shook me and I had to stop reading for a little while.
As well as tackling these issues however, Esi Edugyan has also crafted an epic adventure story that spans years and continents alike. This book never rests and expects the same from its readers. It’s punchy and potent in all the best ways, as well as being utterly heartwarming in places. Edugyan’s almost perfect control over the reader’s emotional journey is a testament to her writing.
If you want something to devour, this isn’t for you but if you want something to savour, to take your time with and to give you a new way of looking at things, try Washington Black. It is very, very good.