Washington Black is a mesmerizing story. The main voice is that of George Washington Black, born a slave on a sugar plantation in Barbados in the 1830’s. From the outset, I was immersed in the mind of that very young boy, understanding the fear of being singled out and punished, the drive for survival, the choice between obedience and death that marks the life of a slave under a brutal master. I lived through Wash’s movement into a different life, one that involves reading and writing, drawing, and the growth of self-respect and calm.
But is there ever calm in the life of a black man of that (or any) time? This is one of the questions I believe the author was asking. She gave Washington Black a disfiguring facial burn, which only accentuated his visibility as he moved off the plantation into a wider world that is, itself, cruel to blacks.
Honestly? I’m startled reading comments from the Washington Post (“ … rip-roaring hybrid of 19th Century adventure and contemporary subtlety ..”), The New Yorker (“ … exhilarating dialogue reminiscent of Jules Verne …”) and The Boston Globe (“ … a rousing adventure story stretching to the ends of the earth). Adventure isn’t what comes to my mind when I think of Washington Black. For me, it was about the search of one man for a place where he can finally be accepted and loved. In that, it was very poignant.