Washington Black : A Novel

by Esi Edugyan

Hardcover, 2018




New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.


Washington Black is an eleven-year-old field slave who knows no other life than the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born. When his master's eccentric brother chooses him to be his manservant, Wash is terrified of the cruelties he is certain await him. But Christopher Wilde, or "Titch," is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor, and abolitionist. He initiates Wash into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky; where two people, separated by an impossible divide, might begin to see each other as human; and where a boy born in chains can embrace a life of dignity and meaning. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Titch abandons everything to save him. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic, where Wash, left on his own, must invent another new life.… (more)

Media reviews

The reader can almost see what is coming. Since Barbados was under British rule, slavery was abolished there in 1834. This, then, could be a novel about the last days of the cruelty, about what happens to a slave-owning family and to the slaves during the waning of the old dispensation. The
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Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan has other ideas, however. She is determined that the fate of Washington Black will not be dictated by history, that the novel instead will give him permission to soar above his circumstances and live a life that has been shaped by his imagination, his intelligence and his rich sensibility....Edugyan is willing to take great risks to release the reader from any easy or predictable interpretations of Washington. She is not afraid to allow him to have thoughts and knowledge that seem oddly beyond his command. That is part of his ambiguous power in the book, the idea that, owing to his unusual quickness and subtlety of mind, Washington can be trusted to know more than he should
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Washington Black opens on a 19th-century sugar plantation in Barbados and launches into the horrors of that experience from the child’s-eye view of the eponymous Washington Black, an 11-year-old slave. But it would be a mistake to think that Esi Edugyan’s Man Booker-longlisted third book is an
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earnest story of colonial slavery....it is clear that Edugyan is coming at her subject sideways, not with gritty realism but with fabular edges, and as much concerned with the nature of freedom as with slavery, both for her white characters and black....The beauty here lies in Edugyan’s language, which is precise, vivid, always concerned with wordcraft and captivating for it...It’s not what readers who are wedded to realism might want, but Edugyan’s fiction always stays strong, beautiful and beguiling.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Gwendydd
George Washington Black is a slave in Barbados who is fortunate to be chosen by his master's brother, known as Titch, to be his assistant in his scientific experiment to build a hot-air balloon. He turns out to have amazing skill as an artist, and develops a close relationship with Titch. The two
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of them flee the plantation together, and Black has a series of adventures in the Arctic, Canada, England, and Europe.

It's interesting reading reviews of this book, because it almost feels like I read a different book. People describe it as an adventure novel, but there really isn't much adventuring - the adventures that do happen are over quickly, and Wash is mostly a passive observer being dragged along.

I think the biggest problem I had with the book was that Wash's character just never felt believable. He goes from uneducated slave to enthusiastic amateur scientist with little explanation of how that transition happened or what it really means to him. He apparently has a passion for studying sea creatures, but it's not clear when/how that passion started. He describes how much he hated learning to read, but then apparently becomes familiar with a wide array of books. As a former slave, it seems that he should have one of two reactions to science: (1) How can you focus all your time/energy/wealth on understanding sea animals when people around you are being brutally mistreated, or (2) Science has the power to transcend the pain of human existence. He never expresses either of these ideas, or seems to have much introspection about much of anything other than his relationship with Titch.

This book seemed to have missed a lot of opportunities to say something about what it means to be human, and the role that our capacity for love and intellectual endeavors play in what it means to be human.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
I'm so glad I picked up this creative and captivating novel. I remember it coming out in 2019 and being intrigued, but uneven reviews kept it on the backburner. I really enjoyed it, though, so I'm glad I finally read it.

Washington Black is a young slave on Barbados when he is chosen by his owner's
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brother to aid in his experiments. Christopher Wilde is a scientist and is working on a "cloud cutter", which seems like an early hot air balloon. Wilde, called Titch, initially chooses Wash because of his small size, but quickly finds out that Wash is an intelligent boy who learns quickly and is a gifted artist as well. The two end up escaping Barbados and Washington travels to Virginia, the Arctic, London, and Morocco, meeting friends and enemies along the way.

I was sucked right in to Edugyan's writing style and how she mixed the brutal reality of the life of the enslaved with the fanciful, creative world of science and experimentation in the 1800s. She had me all the way to the end . . . until the very last page where I'm sad to say I was really disappointed in the ending. I got what she was trying to do (there's some parallel symbolism to something that happens earlier to a different character) but it felt abrupt and out of character for Washington.

Anyway, I'd still recommend this because I really did love it overall. I will put her other books on my library wish list.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The story of George Washington Black is one of the odyssey of a young boy through his growth to manhood. In this case the young boy is a slave on a plantation in Barbados. Born on that plantation and raised by his mother Big Kitt, young Wash, as he is called, is presented with a unique opportunity
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when Christopher Wilde, the brother of the Master of the Plantation, chooses Wash to be his assistant in his ventures exploring the natural world. Soon Wash enters into a world where the possibility of his escape from a life in chains changes from fantasy into reality. The reality he experiences includes many adventures that seem to be closer to the realm of the fantastic than that of the everyday.

The novel opens in 1830 where the English family named Wilde owns Faith plantation in Barbados. Wash is the narrator and is a slave who was born on the plantation in the year 1818. The master of the plantation is Erasmus Wilde, who is cruel and sadistic towards the slaves. Kit, Big Kit to Wash, is a female slave who takes care of Wash—says that she and Wash will be reincarnated in Africa after they die. One day, Erasmus’ younger brother, Christopher “Titch” Wilde—arrives on the island. He is a scientist and inventor, and he hopes to test his new hot air balloon design on a nearby mountain. Titch is an abolitionist and finds the methods of his cruel brother abhorrent.

Titch enlists Wash as an assistant, and he teaches Wash to read, write, and draw. Wash is fascinated by drawing finds he has a special ability to sketch images of the natural world. Titch continues working on his hot air balloon, but, due to an accidental gas explosion from the balloon, Wash suffers burns on much of his face and body that will stay with him for life. Titch and Erasmus’ cousin Philip comes to visit, unfortunately Philip suffers from depression and soon kills himself. Titch believes that Erasmus will likely accuse Wash of killing Philip and will kill Wash as a means of spiting Titch. So Titch and Wash escape using the hot air balloon and then gain passage by boat to Norfolk, Virginia. There, a kind sexton named Edgar Farrow gives them temporary shelter. In the meantime Erasmus hires a bounty hunter to retrieve Wash. Titch takes Wash with him north to Canada, where they meet with James Wilde, Titch’s father, who is on a scientific expedition. After James refuses to help secure Wash’s safety from Erasmus, Titch devolves into a frenzy of despair and wanders off into the wilderness.

WIth Titch gone, Wash travels to Nova Scotia to hopefully live and work in peace. He is about 16 years old by that time. The British Empire abolishes slavery, but he still witnesses and experiences instances of racial tension and persecution. Wash befriends a young woman named Tanna Goff, who is from England. Her father is the renowned marine zoologist Geoffrey Goff, who is in Canada collecting specimens for an exhibition in London. Goff hires Wash as an assistant and illustrator, allowing Wash to further develop his talents. The bounty hunter catches up with Wash. However he escapes only after learning that Titch is alive and in England. A romance begins to develop between Tanna and Wash. Wash conceives of having an exhibition of live sea creatures in London. Wash and the Goffs return to London to execute this plan.

In the concluding section of the novel we find Wash with the Goffs in London. However Wash still desires to try to find Titch. His further adventures take him to Amsterdam and Morocco as the novel ends. I found the novel endlessly fascinating with both the story of Wash's growth into a successful young man and Titch's search for meaning in his life compelling narratives. The plot at times bordered on the fantastic, but the strength of the characters overcame any weakness in the story-line. This novel from the pen Esi Edugyan is worthy of consideration by all who enjoy historical adventures.
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LibraryThing member stevesmits
George Washington Black is an enslaved boy on a plantation in the West Indies, a place of horrific cruelty. He is selected by Christopher Wilde (Titch, the brother of the master) who is a scientist experimenting with a lighter-than-air balloon. Wash is chosen because he's the right weight to
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provide the necessary ballast. Wash's face is badly burned by an explosion of hydrogen gas. (His disfigurement and his skin color will be impediments to full appreciation of his talents.) The balloon's maiden flight soon crashed, starting Titch and Wash on a journey (trailed by a slave hunter) to Virginia and the Arctic where Titch believes his scientist father is. Titch abandons Wash there which leads to a years-long journey by Wash. In Nova Scotia Wash becomes a naturalist of his own and assists Goff, an another naturalist, in developing an aquarium exhibit in London. Wash is the major contributor to the building of the exhibit, but he's bitter about not receiving his due credit, a result, he holds, is beause of his race. Wash hears that Titch may still be alive and he embarks on a trek to find him, largely motivated by his conflicts between his love for Titch and his resentment of being abandoned. Titch is an abolutionst which makes him virtuous, but Wash wonders if Titch's commitment is based more on the moral stain slavery places on white society, rather than on its cruelty to the enslaved black race.

This is a multi-themed story of race, love and abandonment, of the complexities of relationships. An author of lesser skill would have made this a feel good story of escape from the oppression and tyranny of slavery -- a journey from dark to light, a tale of moral triumph against evil. Instead, it tells of human relationships that are complex and contradictory, of love that is never certain and sure, of misunderstandings that confuse and engender bitterness. There is no easy resolution of such matters, certainly a truth of the human condition.
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LibraryThing member Gail.C.Bull
There seems to be a lot of readers who have are confused by this book. I think it's because they are expecting it to be a slave narrative. And while it's true that the horrors of slavery do make a large part of the events of the book, slavery is not the main theme. The main theme of the book
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...wait for it...
...our relationships with our families (both birth and found families) and how they shape our sense of self worth and even our desire to go on living.

*Spoilers ahead*

Washington's relationship with his birth mother is deeply complicated. In fact, he doesn't even realize she is his birth mother until after she is dead when he finds the records of his birth in England. She abandoned him at birth and only began having contact with him after he stumbled back into her life, and she presented herself as a guardian, never telling him that she was his birth mother.

Washington finds a surrogate father in Titch. Titch also becomes a mentor and teacher to Washington. But just like his birth mother, Titch ultimately abandons him, and for many years, Washington has no idea whether Titch is dead or alive. Titch's motivation for trying to kill himself by walking into an arctic storm is driven by his troubled relationship with his own father. A man who constructively abandoned his wife and sons in order to pursue his scientific research.

Washington wandering into the storm mirrors Titch's suicide attempt because they are both driven by the same motivation. Titch treated Washington with the same selfish abandonment that Titch's father treated him (Titch). He survived his walk into the arctic storm but made no effort to reconnect with Washington, and allowed him to believe that he was dead. The complete indifference of his father figure is what causes Washington to lose faith in himself and his work, and quite literally stop caring whether he lives or dies, leaving his fate to be decided by the storm. And to some degree, by the reader themselves.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Washington Black is a young slave working in the sugar cane fields of a Barbados plantation when he catches the eye of the Master's brother, Titch. Titch is a scientist who has developed an aerostat, a flying machine that uses a hydrogen-filled balloon. Titch trains Wash in the natural sciences as
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well as teaching him the rudiments of reading and Wash finds he has a talent for drawing. But while Titch treats him humanely, Wash is still living on a plantation full of enslaved people and white men who regard the slaves as things. Circumstances cause Titch and Wash to flee in the aerostat, and the subsequent years bring both adventures and fear, as Wash travels to Virginia, the Arctic, Upper Canada, London, Continental Europe and Morocco.

Esi Edugyan has written this book as a traditionally structured historical novel, with plenty of adventure and lots going on. But there's a much larger and more subversive story going on as well. The reader feels Wash's real fear as a black man in a world that is hostile to him, where even when he is in places where slavery is illegal, he knows he can be forcibly taken. His moments of peace are always temporary. And Edugyan also looks at what slavery does to the traditional family structure and with a person's ability to function independently. Titch may be a caring person who can see Wash as a human being, but he's also still fed and supported by slavery and unable and unwilling to stand up against the existing structures. Each place Wash finds himself has its own racist structures in place, even in places known as places of refuge for escaped slaves.

From an abolitionist who studies decay in human corpses, to a woman with tobacco- stained teeth and a mind of her own, to a mute Dutch man more comfortable in the Arctic than at home, this is a novel full of colorful and unlikely characters, all of whom exist in some way outside of borders of respectable society.
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LibraryThing member SusanKrzywicki
Heartbreaking. I couldn't even get through the first third of the book.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5605. Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan (read 5 Jan 2019) This novel is by a Canadian-born woman whose parents were born in Africa. It tells of a slave boy born on Barbados who is befriended by his master's brother, and who escapes in exciting fashion from Barbados and slavery.. After time in
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Virginia he fears he will be recaptured and returned to slavery so he manages to get to Canada. After fearsome time in the Far North and in Nova Scotia he gets to England, the Netherlands, and finally to Morocco. The novel starts well but meanders on pointlessly and ends most undramatically. in Morocco. It is well-written but seems pointless and outside of showing the evil of slavery had no message which spoke to me.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Washington black, Esi Edugyan, author; Dion Graham, narrator
In the first third of the 19th century, slavery would soon be a thing of the past on the island of Barbados, but before it ended, George Washington Black’s life would be forever changed there. Born a slave, he was 11 years old when the
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book begins. Wash had never known freedom or a parent, although on the sugar plantation, Faith, he has a mother figure named Big Kit. She cares for him and tries to protect him but sometimes is cruel herself. When the owner of the plantation dies, his eldest nephew, Erasmus Wilde takes over the running of the place. He is cruel, violent and vicious. He enforces his power with malevolence, treating the slaves inhumanely, and without mercy. They are merely property for him to do with as he wishes, as they are to most slave owners. However, the descriptions of his brutality are contemptible. When Erasmus’s younger brother Titch (Christopher) arrives, Kit and Wash are waiting table for them at the manor house. Titch seems to have a softer and gentler nature. He is developing a flying machine that he calls a Cloud-cutter.. He wants Wash to assist him because of his small size which would be perfect as a ballast.
Titch prevails upon Erasmus to give him Wash and others to help him with his flying machine. When he realizes that Wash has the mind of a prodigy, he begins to teach him manners and how to read. He teaches him about marine specimens and about his Cloud-cutter. His artistic talent is discovered when Titch discovers Wash drawing in secret. He encourages him to continue to draw for him. There is magic in his drawings which possess a special kind of light and lightness. Soon the two are working together, although it takes time for Wash to overcome his fear of being abused by his masters. He lives with Titch in his quarters, and he sleeps in a bed for the first time in his life. Slowly, he becomes devoted to Titch and begins to trust him, although it seems never quite completely. When during an experiment with the Cloud-cutter, distracted by Titch’s cousin Philip, Wash is severely burned in an unexpected explosion, Titch nurses him back to health, but his face is brutally disfigured.
What seems like a short time later, Wash is with Philip once again, and he witnesses his death. He is helpless to prevent it, but as the last person to be with him, and as a black slave, he will be punished for the suicidal act.. Titch realizes that Wash is in grave danger, and so both take off in the Cloud-cutter to escape the plantation and prevent Wash’s capture and potential murder.
The adventures begin in earnest, at this time, as they are led in one direction or another, seemingly by chance encounters. Soon they are traveling the world from place to place, searching for Titch’s father, a well-known scientist whom Philip had told Titch had died. As possible sightings of his scholarly father persist, they travel to the Arctic to find him. The passage of time is ephemeral, and is hard to realistically determine based on the events taking place.
No matter what life throws at Wash, he seems almost supernatural and old beyond his years. He is as smart as a highly educated man, as well. He rises to the occasion no matter what he faces as lady luck seems to smile on him, helping him to survive to live another day. When after finding Titch’s father, Titch abandons him, wandering off into a snow storm and is never found, Wash begins to expore the world alone. He is but a teenager at the time without any known resources. He is an escaped slave, recognizable because of his facial scars and is in grave danger much of the time. Still, he makes his way to safety and, in Canada, where he soon meets a young woman, a couple of years older than him who is named Tanna, he finds a new life, once again. Tanna befriends him, and he discovers that her father is a famous zoologist, one he has actually studied, a man who knew Titch’s father and belonged to the same scholarly organizations and had the same honors bestowed upon him. Soon he is collecting and drawing specimens of marine life for him. When Titch conceives of the idea to open what might be the considered a modern day aquarium, they plan to do it together. However Ocean House, a place where marine life would be kept in tanks and viewed by the public, would never bear George Washington Black’s name.. This attraction to be built in London, in Regents Park, would only bring accolades to Mr. Goff, Tanna’s father. As a slave, and a black man, Wash would get no recognition even though it was his genius that conceived the idea and designed everything.
Although it is difficult to conceive of how much time has passed, exactly, the reader soon learns that like rumors about Titch’s father, there are now rumors about Titch himself. Is he still alive? Together with Tanna, he begins to search for him. He believes he may be in Morocco. At this time, Wash is about 18 and Tanna is 20. Their relationship has grown intimate.
Although it often feels as if great lengths of time have sometimes passed, the reader discovers that it is only a few months or years that have gone by. Sometimes the chapters seem to change so abruptly, the reader is left wondering what just happened or how much time has passed. The main character is Wash. He seems larger than life, capable of being at once naïve and then very sophisticated, at the same time. Although, when it begins, Wash is basically illiterate, he is treated with deference most of the time, as if he is a scholar, and is, in fact, described as a prodigy by Titch. His demeanor is, always well mannered and polite, but he often expresses disappointment which sometimes feels inappropriate.
There are times when what occurs requires the reader to suspend disbelief. There is occasional what feels like an infusion of magic and spirituality throughout the narrative which is lyrical and beautifully crafted even though the story often does lack cohesion and credibility when it extends into the world of fantasy. When the book ends, the reader might feel oddly disappointed, not knowing what will take place next, however, one is left with the idea that while Titch is still floundering, purposeless, George Washington Black has found his true purpose and intends to fight for it. After facing Titch and coming to terms with his misinterpretation of their relationship, he realizes that Titch could never be capable of the same depth of devotion that Wash has for him. He feels suddenly free to find his own future and he intends to fight for it. However, since he is black, without funds or family, the odds should be against him. This unreality is what faces the reader and Wash. The question is, what is Wash free to do?
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LibraryThing member tronella
I liked the writing style, and the story never went where I expected, which kept me reading, but in the end this just wasn't to my taste. Despite being written in the first person, I never got a good sense of the main character's personality. I thought the opening section was the strongest, but
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then it seemed to lose track somehow, almost veering into magical realism at times. A few too many chapters ended in unnecessary "dramatic" cliffhangers, which got annoying pretty quickly.
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LibraryThing member c.archer
This is a powerfully written saga that spans the globe taking the reader on a journey both fantastic and halting. There is a depth to Ms. Edugyan's writing that lead me through the book always wondering and curious to know where it would lead. This book is a journey and not a destination and as
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such, mirrors life.
Although I really liked "Washington Black", I can't recommend it for everyone. If you enjoy prose that makes you think and search rather than entertain, I believe you will enjoy this one.
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LibraryThing member lawrence
I enjoyed this book somwhat. But what I liked most was the writing style. There was virtually no use of metaphors or similes. Just plain language that conveyed the journey of Wash, the main character and all the people he interacts with. I have read a few books recently that used metaphors and
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similes, albeit in very entertaining ways, in abundance, so this was a refreshing change. That is the only point I wanted to add to this body of reviews. I agree with a lot of the criticism, but for me, the style and writing craft was worth a lot here.
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LibraryThing member nyiper
There is no way to give a simple description of this book! Her writing is so detailed and imaginative and I'm just plain astounded at her ability to provide such a picture for the mind, over and over. And Washington Black!!! What a character---fascinating. I really loved the book from beginning to
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end, every single page.
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LibraryThing member cmt100
Very fine novels about slavery have been published for more than a century. All detail the brutality of the system and the suffering of the enslaved people. Recently, authors have added elements of fantasy or whimsy to that tradition--Colin Whitehead's Underground Railroad, with an actual
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underground railroad; and Esi Edugyan's Washington Black, with its flying machine. I loved this novel.
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LibraryThing member msf59
“We must all take on faith the stories of our birth, for though we are in them, we are not yet present.”

The story begins, with a young slave, named Washington Black, living on a sugar plantation in Barbados. He is eleven years old and an orphan. There are many interesting left turns here and
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the first is, that the Master's younger brother, “Titch”, a naturalist and inventor, takes the boy under his wing, to help him with his eccentric experiments. This fortunate move, opens up many different worlds for Wash, until he is suspected of murdering a white man and is forced to flee the island, with the assistance of Titch. They end up in America, for awhile and then the Arctic, and then...
This novel goes in many unexpected directions, and I am not going to divulge much, but I will say this is a terrific book. It is well-written and intelligently researched. This is my first, by this author and I came away, quite dazzled.
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LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
This is one of the better books I've read this year - the narrator George Washington Black is a born a slave on a Caribbean sugar plantation, but through a fascinating setting of circumstances, he receives a scientific education (as well as being a talented artist). He also, through events that at
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times seem fantastical and others mundane, embarks on a series of travels that take him across the globe from Barbados to Virginia to Nova Scotia to London to Africa (and I may have missed a few in between). I really liked the adventure aspects of the novel and I appreciated a story that delves into the typical and the fantastic at the same - the author manages to make this combination work and I applaud the result.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
George Washington Black lives a curiously scientific life, the fact that he begins that life as a slave born on a sugar cane plantation in Barbados notwithstanding. Life is hard, initially. Actually it is always hard for Wash. As a boy he is singled out for use as ballast on an experimental airship
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being constructed by Christopher Wilde (Titch), the younger brother of the plantation’s de facto owner, Eramus. Where Erasmus is vicious in his control and manipulation of his “property”, Titch is mild and, ineffectually, an abolitionist. When he discovers that Wash has hidden artistic talents (they were also hidden from Wash as he had never had any opportunity to discover them), Titch sets about to encourage Wash’s development both in art and letters so that he might better serve him as an assistant in his scientific endeavours. And so Wash’s life transforms. But events ensue, and soon enough Titch and Wash find themselves absconding in the night in the airship. Wash’s life after that is a series of encounters with scientifically inquisitive men, and women, but it is unease about his own origins that remains the greatest mystery in his life.

Esi Edugyan writes with a fluid style in the first person from Wash’s perspective. She captures his wonder at discovering his native abilities with understated charm. But the narrative never feels entirely at ease. Nor is the plot particularly plausible. And over the course of less than ten years Wash not only develops astonishing skills but his very manner of speaking elevates, almost more than is creditable given that the entire tale is told in reflection by him from his later life (though at which point is unclear). There are parts of the story that are set-pieces — e.g. the adventure in the Arctic, the airship in gale, etc. And there are certainly moments which are especially beautiful, such as the early days of Titch and Wash’s friendship. But the plotting and the obvious desire for external tension (which involves one close call after another) undercuts the expressive possibilities. Always an enjoyable read, but not always fully captivating.

Edugyan remains a writer full of promise and this novel adds to that without quite achieving it. Gently recommended.
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LibraryThing member Kathl33n
This is a book that has many different stories with a lot of science, a lot of action/adventure, a little bit of love, all wrapped into a big historical fiction package and somehow they all play together and form this really beautiful, really thought-provoking and really suspenseful read.
LibraryThing member ParadisePorch
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2018

George Washington Black is a young slave on Barbados plantation where cruelty reigns. His master’s brother Titch escapes with him one night in his hot-air balloon. The balloon hits a storm and ends up crash landing on a sailing ship that agrees to take them to
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the Arctic where Titch finds his father alive and then disappears into a blizzard. Feeling abandoned, Wash moves to Nova Scotia – first to the impoverished Shelburne area and then to Halifax area.

From there, he goes to England where he tracks down news of Titch in Amsterdam, then in Marrakesh from where he travels across a desert to find him in a lonely outpost, mentoring another boy who has replaced Wash. The books ends in the air.

The first part of the book, in Barbados, interested me greatly but as the story went on and became more & more fantastic, I was disappointed.
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LibraryThing member strandbooks
Washington Black reminds me of a mix between a Jules Verne adventure and a Charles Dickens saga like Oliver Twist, but the protagonist is a slave from Barbados. The first chapters are about the brutal plantation but then young George Washington Black is swept away by the master’s brother in a hot
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air balloon. He then ends up in the Arctic, Newfoundland, London, Amsterdam and Morrocco. He has an amazing talent drawing and understanding engineering yet he is always struggling with the fact that it was a stroke of luck he was chosen to be taken from the plantation. The writing is really good and the plot moves quickly while still dealing with some pretty heavy themes.
Favorite quote: “what is the truth of any life, Titch? I doubt even the man who lives it can say. You cannot know the nature of another’s suffering.”
“No. But you can try your damnedest not to worsen it.”
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
The depth of Washington Black's character unfolds through his narration of himself as a young slave that finds hope in a world where everything is stacked against him. It's much different than other stories of slaves. There are layers and surprises throughout the novel. One of the best books I've
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read this year.
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
Thoughts: Washington Black is a young slave at Faith Plantation in Barbados. He is terrified of his master Erasmus Wilde who seems to enjoy inflicting torture upon his slaves. Fortunately, for Washington, Erasmus's younger brother Christopher arrives with his invention he calls a cloud cutter, aka,
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hot air balloon. Christopher observes Washington and chooses him to be his manservant and assistant to his experiments and a close bond forms between the two. A pretty ugly situation arises, whereby, the cloud cutter is put into service. It crashes. fortunately, into a ship bound for Virginia. Further fortuitous circumstances propel this story onward to its conclusion.
Although, the story is a bit contrived, I quite enjoyed this adventurous novel and the characters discovered along their journey to England.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
This is an unusual coming of age story focused on six years in the life of a slave on a Barbados sugar plantation owned by the brutal Erasmus WIlde. Wash enjoys the protection of an older mother-figure, Big Kit, who is planning to escape--through death, which she claims will free then and send them
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back to their true home. Fortunately for Wash, he is taken under the wing of his master's younger brother, an abolitionist inventor of a hot air balloon he calls The Cloud-Cutter. Titch (as he asks Wash to call him) needs someone lighter than himself to launch his contraption, and he persuades Erasmus to let him borrow Wash. This relationship will have both positive and negative results for the young slave, forcing him to embark on a voyage that will be both arduous and wonderful. Along the way, he meets many unique characters, including a shady sea-captain, Titch's explorer father, a world-renowned naturalist and his daughter, a native Arctic guide, a bounty-hunter, and more.

While this may sound like a typical historical novel, it also contain elements of magical realism and--through Wash's internal questions about the nature or freedom, cruelty, friendship, and his own place in the world--philosophy. I was caught up in the first half of the book, but my interested flagged at points in the second half. This book has often been compared to The Underground Railroad, but I found the latter to be a more focused and powerful read.
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
2019 TOB--So many books I've read lately have something different about their writing. Like Rachel Cusk's trilogy where the story is told through conversations, or last year's TOB winner, Fever Dream, which was other worldly. But this book was written traditionally with a plot and characters. And
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what a great book. Vivid descriptions without being tiring. Character development done just right. And finally the most wonderful plot. It's absolutely wonderful.
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
I enjoyed this, but the fantastic circumstances of George Washington 'Wash" Black were totally unbelievable. He escapes Barbardos on a duragible that just happens to crash into a ship during a hurricane. He follows the man who led his escape from Barbardos to the Arctic, who then abandons his there
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in a small encampment and who himself survives his solo trek across the Arctic. Wash happens to meet the daughter of the man who illustrated his favorite book and who he attempts to emulate with his own illustrations, which are startlingly good with no training, by the way. And she just happens to be mixed race Polynesian-American, so no one cares if the two minority characters fall in love, and then they just happen to move to London to set up the first aquarium and then they also venture to Amsterdam and Morocco to track down his old friend Titch, who is frustrating about what led him to spring Wash from slavery in the first place. Is historical fantasy a genre I was unaware of?
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