Saturday, February 07, 2015

Lawrence Hill's bestselling The Book of Negroes, coming to American TV in mid-February

Hill’s third novel, a Canadian bestseller, is a masterful example of historical storytelling, one both heartbreaking and hopeful.

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 And for the record, the "Book of Negroes" is an important historical document, one that lists the over 3000 black refugees who arrived in Nova Scotia following the American Revolution.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?

17 comments:

  1. I'm glad it will be shown in the US soon. I hope it gets lots of attention as the book was excellent. I've not watched the show yet, but have it recording each week.

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    1. I hope so too. It might have gotten more publicity if it were on public television, but everyone in the US who has cable should get BET. Looks like it's being shown once a week for six weeks in Canada - is that right? I can't give up three nights in a row during the week to watch TV so will be watching it later on in parts, too.

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    2. That's right. I think there are two weeks left in the series.

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  2. Our The American Slave Coast is coming out from the CRP's Lawrence Hill Books imprint, the one that does the books of African American history. The history of ithe imprint's naming is here.

    Love, c.

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    1. It's an interesting coincidence to have two Lawrence Hills who are both involved with publishing in the area of African American history. The one who founded the imprint that was later acquired by Chicago Review Press is this Mr. Hill, who died in 1988. (His name also remains in the FSG imprint Hill & Wang.) It would be interesting if there were some connection between the men, besides their name, but I haven't heard it if there is.

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  3. Considering everything that happened with African Americans in the Independence era, as seen from the Book of Negroes's passenger lists, that a Lawrence Hill went to Canada, and other (white and / or black) Hills stayed in Brooklyn and New England is certainly possible. OTOH, Hill is a common name among English language inheritors!

    Love, C.

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    1. The author Lawrence's parents emigrated from America, so you never know...

      Also, I was surprised to learn, via Wikipedia, that his brother is singer-songwriter Dan Hill, whose works I remember from the '70s.

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  4. Interesting to see that one of the cast of this miniseries will be Louis Gossett Jr., who was in Roots many years ago, playing an old man when he wasn't, but I suppose he actually is, now. ;-) I hope it's eventually on DVD so I can see it. I live Downunder and don't have pay TV. Maybe I can find the book.

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    1. I noticed that too! I haven't seen Roots since it aired - and I was young so undoubtedly missed a lot.

      This series probably will come out on DVD eventually. There is an Australian edition of the novel, in the meanwhile - published as Someone Knows My Name.

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  5. I doubt we will get to see this mini series on TV in Australia. Hopefully it will come out on DVD. In the mean time I'm adding the book to my reading wish list. Thanks Sarah for bringing another interesting book to my attention.

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    1. Hi Yvonne - hope you're able to find a copy. It's a good one, and at over 500 pages it's one to keep you busy reading for a while.

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  6. I doubt I will ever see the series on TV but the book is definitely a must. Thanks for the review.

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    1. I tend to prefer books to their filmed versions (with a few exceptions), so even if you do come across the broadcast or DVD, I'd still recommend reading the book first!

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  7. Thanks for the heads up on when and where this will be shown, Sarah. I will be watching. Interesting about the title. Words can carry so much baggage.

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    1. Indeed. I think the publisher was right in that the original title would have been considered offensive and/or would have deterred some Americans from buying it -- all the same, I'm glad it prevailed in the end. The document that gave the book its title deserves to be better known.

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  8. Definitely one for my TBR list, Sarah! Notice it is available in libraries in Victoria (Aus) under both titles. Can only hope that our multi-cultural channel SBS gets the TV series. SBS is currently running Sons of Liberty, so fingers crossed.

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    1. I hope it'll be shown there. Please let me know if you find out more, because there are some other Aussies here interested in seeing it too! I've also seen on Amazon that it will be out on DVD in April.

      I haven't seen Sons of Liberty though may catch it on DVD later. There have been a number of history dramas on TV lately, and I find it hard to keep up with just the two I'm watching (Downton and Grantchester). But I'll be making time for Book of Negroes.

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