Walker's Bookshelf

Travel the World with Walker: Washington Black

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (2018) begins in 1830 Barbados where the title character, George Washington (Wash) Black, is an eleven year old field slave. Within the first few pages, he is given to his cruel master’s visiting brother (Titch) to become  his manservant. At first terrified at what might become of him, Wash’s  life takes a surprising turn when his new master turns out to be an eccentric naturalist, inventor, and abolitionist. In addition to being exposed to new ideas, Wash has a natural talent for drawing and becomes an illustrator to Titch’s discoveries.

When Wash is the only witness to a white man’s suicide on his former master’s sugar plantation, it sets in motion the two’s escape to America and then to the Arctic in search of Titch’s father. Events there separate result in Wash being on his own. Wash sets out on his own to support himself in Nova Scotia and meets a woman and her father, who also share his interest in art and natural history. He goes with them to London to help create one of the first aquariums.

I enjoyed this book not only for its strong and engaging characters , their relationships to each other, and their perseverance, but the compelling  themes of what constitutes family, and freedom. Additionally it is just very well-written and engaging.

A passage in this book really hit on Walker’s Reading challenge theme, Travel the World .One of the characters made a remark about people he met in another cultures and why he liked to travel: “…in any case, I recognized my own values-the tenets I hold dear as an Englishman-they are not the only, nor the best, values in existence. I understood that there are many ways of being in the world, that to privilege one rigid set of beliefs over another was to lose something.” Reading about other places and people “from away” gives us an opportunity to experience just that.