Washington Black (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

"This is Edugyan’s third novel and like its predecessors, Washington Black has a strong adventure novel vibe—there’s a daring escape and some swashbuckling—but for me, the most interesting element of the story is the inner life of the title character. We first meet Wash when he’s around ten years old, sticking close to Big Kit. The two are waiting with the other plantation slaves as their new master arrives. When Erasmus Wilde, dressed in white and with a pallid countenance to match, descends from his carriage, Wash is seized by a sudden chill and the certainty that this is an evil man.

Wash has been under Big Kit’s protection for as long as he can remember. He was born on the plantation but Kit remembers being free and fighting her captors. Immensely strong and intensely protective, Kit stands between Wash and harm but her own love has a violent undercurrent shooting through it. This means that Wash has never known love in which there was not an element of fear, an element that reemerges when he meets Titch, the master’s contemplative younger brother, a man of science, with none of his sibling’s delight in causing pain. Assigned by chance to help Titch with his research and experiments, Wash discovers a natural talent for illustration and an aptitude for science. To his credit, Titch encourages Wash’s skill and is by all accounts a kind master. But Edugyan subverted my expectations by never once lapsing into the trope of an unlikely friendship blossoming between two characters worlds apart but driven together by the universe—it’s doubtless that Wash loves Titch but the knowledge that Titch could murder him with impunity never leaves him, and it shouldn’t because it never stops being true.

Edugyan doesn’t shy from Wash’s circumstances: he lives in a world where his life means nothing and his reprieve is so precarious—it all depends on the goodwill of a man who could abandon whatever responsibility he feels for this child for whom he feels a great deal of affection, even love, but who has added complications and risk to his life that he needn’t bother with. And Titch can only do so much and endangers himself by helping Wash. Wash is hunted for years and lives with the constant awareness that his expectations will always be restricted, and he’s one of the lucky ones. Around the arc of his life, the lives of the slaves that never made it off the plantation are conspicuously present, to him and to the reader."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books

— From Sarah Recommends!

October 2018 Indie Next List

“Epic in scope, ranging from a brutal slave plantation in Barbados to scenes in the Arctic, antebellum America, and London, plus a thoughtful denouement in the Moroccan desert, Edugyan’s novel explores the complex relationship between slave and master, the hubris of good intentions, and the tense life of a runaway in constant flight with a Javert on his tail. What results is a compulsive page-turner blessed with effortless prose. Highly recommended.”
— Matthew Lage, Iowa Book, Iowa City, IA


One of the New York Times Book Review TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR 

Eleven-year-old George Washington Black—or Wash—a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is initially terrified when he is chosen as the manservant of his master’s brother. To his surprise, however, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning, and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.
But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, they must abandon everything and flee together. Over the course of their travels, what brings Wash and Christopher together will tear them apart, propelling Wash ever farther across the globe in search of his true self. Spanning the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, London to Morocco, Washington Black is a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, and of a world destroyed and made whole again.

One of the Best Books of the Year
The Boston Globe  The Washington Post ● Time ● Entertainment Weekly ● San Francisco Chronicle ● Financial Times ● Minneapolis Star Tribune ● NPR ● The Economist ● Bustle ● The Dallas Morning News ● Slate ● Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Esi Edugyan is author of the novels The Second Life of Samuel Tyne and Half-Blood Blues, which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Orange Prize. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

Praise For…

“Extraordinary. . . . Edugyan is a magical writer.” —The Washington Post

“A daring work of empathy and imagination.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Soaring. . . . Washington Black contains immense feeling.” —Entertainment Weekly
“An inspiring story of freedom and self­discovery.” —Time
“Enthralling.” —The Boston Globe
“Sparkling . . . full of truths and startling marvels.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Powerful.” —The Seattle Times
“Lush, exhilarating.” —The New Yorker

“Edugyan has created a wonder of an adventure story, powered by the helium of fantasy, but also by the tender sensibility of its aspiring young hero.” —NPR

“Washington Black’s presence in these pages is fierce and unsettling.” —Colm Toibin, The New York Times Book Review
“A gripping historical narrative exploring both the bounds of slavery and what it means to be truly free.” —Vanity Fair
“Brutal, magical, urgent and exuberant.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Imaginative and dynamic. . . . With equal parts terror, adventure and humanity, Washington Black reads like a dream collaboration between Jules Verne and Colson Whitehead.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Exuberant and spellbinding. . . . The novel is not only harrowing and poignant in its portrayal of the horrors of slavery on a Caribbean plantation but liberating, too, in its playful shattering of the usual tropes. The result is a book about freedom that’s both heartbreaking and joyfully invigorating.” —Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Wall Street Journal
“Masterful. . . . [A] wondrous book.” —The Economist
“Edugyan’s language is exquisite, and the life story of her titular slave . . . is a swashbuckling adventure.” —Vulture
“Profoundly humane.” —The Times (London)
“As harrowing a portrayal of slavery as Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, but also a globe-trotting, page-turning adventure story. A historical epic with much to say about the present-day world.” —The Guardian
“A wildly imaginative exploration of what it means to be free.” —Financial Times
“Elegant, nuanced. . . . Edugyan illustrates the complexity of identity and explores what defines us. Is it what surrounds us, such as family? Or is it what is inside us?” —The Christian Science Monitor
“A thoughtful, boldly imagined ripsnorter that broadens inventive possibilities for the antebellum novel.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Product Details
ISBN: 9780525563242
ISBN-10: 0525563245
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: April 9th, 2019
Pages: 400
Language: English