When slavers wrest 11-year-old Aminata Diallo from her West African village in 1745, she vows to remember everything. After enduring the harrowing Middle Passage, she becomes the property of a South Carolina indigo farmer whose overseer notes her intelligence and secretly teaches her to read.
Whether keeping books for a Jewish businessman in Revolutionary-era Manhattan, documenting her fellow Black Loyalists before their transport to Nova Scotia (reflecting Hill’s original title, The Book of Negroes), or joining the British colony of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Aminata retains her self-respect. Throughout her life, she holds tightly to the idea of freedom for everyone forced into slavery, and to her love for the African husband from whom she’s constantly separated.
By the time Aminata journeys to London in 1802 as a symbol of the abolitionist movement, readers will have witnessed the dehumanizing slave trade from inside and out. An unforgettable epic, seen through the eyes of a sharply realized, indomitable heroine.
The review above first appeared in Booklist's 10/15/2007 issue. The book's U.S. edition was published by Norton under the title Someone Knows My Name. (For background on how that came about, read the author's piece in the Guardian, "Why I'm Not Allowed My Book Title.") And for the record, the "Book of Negroes" is an important historical document, one that lists the over 3000 black refugees who arrived in Nova Scotia following the American Revolution.
I had mentioned the original title in the review to honor the writer's choice and to alert readers that Someone Knows My Name and The Book of Negroes were the same book.
The Book of Negroes, which won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, was selected for Canada Reads in 2013 and has become a modern classic.
Norton has re-released the novel in trade paperback (image at top left) to coincide with the American premiere of the six-part TV miniseries based on the book, which stars Cuba Gooding Jr., Jane Alexander, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Aunjanue Ellis as Aminata. It will be shown on BET on February 16, 17, and 18; check your local listings for times. My DVR is set to record it. For the Canadian readers who have been watching it on CBC, what did you think?