What The Book of Negroes Can Teach Us About Freedom
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
– George Santayana
(If you’re interested, here is an excellent article by Nicholas Clairmont about the above quote)
I recently finished reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. My good friend, Sharon, had given it to me a few months ago and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
It was an outstanding novel…and shocking.
Prior to reading it, I had very little concept of what slaves endured. I mean, really endured. I certainly had no clue of what it was like to have been abducted from a village in West Africa and forced to walk months to reach the sea, only to be crammed into an overcrowded, rat-infested ship with all your friends and family dying around you – if you were lucky enough to still have them with you – and then sailed to a foreign land where you were sold at an auction.
And then the real hell of your new life began – if you survived, that is.
Such was the journey of Meena, the 11-year old protagonist of The Book of Negroes. She could teach us all a thing or two in the tenacity-department. The Book of Negroes was an important historical lesson for me but it was Meena’s story that made history come alive – and provide meaning to my own life today.
And isn’t that what good fiction does?
I must confess to have avoided watching films about slavery because I find them extremely upsetting. But I realize now that sticking my head in the sand about what happened in recent history is a dishonour to the millions of people who had no freedoms whatsoever. As a Canadian woman in 2015, I am blessed beyond belief to be living where I do, when I do…and The Book of Negroes was a powerful reminder of that.
The book also gave me a bit better understanding of the racial tensions that run so deep in many parts of the world today. For I suspect atrocities such as the slave trade live on at the soul-level. How could they not?
If you haven’t yet read The Book of Negroes, I highly recommend it. If you belong to a book club, this novel would generate some excellent discussion…at least, I certainly hope so.
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Maryanne Pope is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of theJohn Petropoulos Memorial Fund. She is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the playwright of Saviour. If you would like to receive her weekly blog, please sign up here.